When I mention weather records I like to use the term “recorded history” and the reason for that is most weather records in Michigan (and most of the rest of the United States) only go back to the later 1880’s. Here in Michigan we have one location (Lansing) that goes back to 1863 while Detroit goes back to 1874 and Sault Ste Marie officially goes back to 1889. Here at Grand Rapids it record only goes back to 1894. So we do not have a good record of what the weather was like before the late 1880’s. In Michigan the British took temperature readings at Fort Detroit from 1781 to 1786 but the Americans did not keep records there until 1874. The longest official records here in Michigan are from Lansing where they started in 1863. However, at Sault Ste Marie there are some good records from 1823 until 1857. There is a long gap from 1858 until 1889 however. Back in the 1823 to 1957 period at the Sault the temperature was taken and recorded 3 times a day at 7 AM 2 PM and 9 PM. One item I would now like to cover is how we determined what is the “average” as in average high or low temperature or average snow fall etc. The United States uses a floating 30 period for a average. So that at this time the “average” is based on the weather records from 1981 to 2010. And will be updated after 2020. For Michigan as a whole the warmest years are scattered over the states recorded history with 2012, 1846, 1921, 1987 and 1878 being the warmest and 1875, 1917, 1885, 1888 and 1883 being the coldest point to a possible very cold period in the l875 to 1890 time. As for precipitation there is more year to year variability but more stable of the long term. The wettest year 1985 is almost twice as wet as the driest year 1930. And there have been wet years after dry years. While there have been multi dry years leading to droughts 1934-1936, 1962-65, 1987-1990 long term droughts in Michigan are rare.
OK here is some climate/weather information from some very early Michigan climate and weather observations. Note many of the observations are not official and most were at a time when the reading were taken 3 times a day. Also no one knows just how accurate the instruments were and just how honest the people taking the readings were.
First installment 9000 BC to 1821
9000 BC the ice sheets retreats to the north and leaves what is now Michigan and the Great Lakes in its place (note it take almost a 1000 years for the ice to melt from south to north over Michigan.
3000 BC What are now Lakes Michigan and Huron reach their highest levels at about 20 feet above current levels This is deduced by elevations of ancient beaches. The high water level very well may have been due to a different drainage set up as the levels dropped once the channel that is now the St Clair river opened up.
700 to 1000 AD Lakes Michigan and Huron levels fall to about 5 feet below the current levels so there may have been a 300 year period of dryer weather over the Great Lakes. It could even have been warmer.
1000 to about 1800 the lakes run 5 to at times 10 feet higher than present levels there was however a time between about 1250 to 1500 when the lakes were near their current levels and the lakes at that time there is a chance the climate was near what we have now.
1781 Dr George C. Anthon a British Army Post Doctor at Fort Detroit started his “Meteorological Journal” he kept the journal for 5 years.
1784 Dr Anthon journal states that the temperature falls to -7 on January 7th and the Detroit river freezes over. He reports the temperature falls to -15° on January 9th and 16th down to -22 on January 25th and reports readings of – 20 January 27th to the 30th He reported a “thaw” at the start of February but back down to -12 on the 8th and -18 on the 9th February ends with a -10 on the 29th Readings of -6 on March 4th and a -4 on the 5th were reported. He reported 23 sub zero readings for the winter.
1821 The Detroit Gazette reported a reading of -27° on March 8th and 8” of snow on April 18th in Detroit.
The following are still mostly “unofficial” and can not be verified.
Michigan weather 1823 to 1863.
1823 In January The US Army Post Surgeon at Fort Brady, Just west of Sault Ste. Marie starts keeping his “Diary of the Weather” In February of 1826 he reports that on February 8th the temperature fall to -30° He reports the average for that February as 8.9° and the warmest at 33°. He kept records at the Fort for the next 32 years.
1826 a reading of -37° was reported at Fort Brady on February 11th
1827 Fort Brady high for the year is just 84° Note there are other summers where the highest it get at The Sault are only in the mid 80°
1834 The coldest it get at Fort Brady is a mild -12° on January 19th Around noon on July 17th the St Marys River suddenly falls to just a few feet. Less than a hour later the water level jumps well above average in what must have been a massive seiche.
1835/36 a long winter starts out in November and lingers well into April that winter created all kinds of hardship for settlers in the upper Great Lakes area. Ever month from November to May was well below average (using todays averages) and became known as “The Starving Time” It was reported that the temperature fell to -40° at Fort Brady on February 1st
1836/37 The winter and spring of 1836/37 was yet another very cold one Fort Brady’s coldest reading that winter was -30° on February 5th Summer was also very cold with a reported mean of just 56.8° that would make the summer of 1837 the coldest on record at the Sault.
1838 A wet summer in the Great Lakes area lifts the water levels of Lake Michigan and Huron to 584’ above sea level in July That would be 4.5’ above the 20th century average and 1.7’ above peak leaves of 1986. The high water levels were the last of a long and cool wet spell that began around 1000 A.D.
1839 the temperature soars to 96° on July 12th at Fort Brady.
1843 March of 1843 had a mean temperature of 12.1° at Fort Brady and 22.5° at Detroit. Both locations were about 5° colder than a average January. February that year was around -7° average at Fort Brady. Even though some spring like weather arrived on April 10th Lake Erie doesn’t open up until May 6th A warm summer brings a good crop season (can we see the same this year?)
1845 Detroit’s winter December/February 1844/45 is very mild averaging 32.8° a undated seiche is reported at Copper Harbor.
1846 the annual average temperature of 43.6° at Fort Brady makes that year one of the warmest at the Sault. Every month is warmer than average. (last year the mean average for the year was 43.9 and it was even warmer in 2016 at 45.0°)
1848 Steamer cruise Lake Erie between Buffalo and Detroit in February and yet another mild winter prevails.
1851 Fort Mackinac reports only 11.70” of precipitation all year, but that may not have been right as Fort Brady reported 45.30”.
1853 Temperatures soar all the way to 106° at Detroit on June 22nd and the same 106° at Fort Brady on June 23rd that 106 would be the highest at the Sault (the official highest reading at the Sault is 98° making the Sault and Muskegon the only two major locations in Michigan to never reach 100°)
1855 3′ of snow is reported in western Michigan on January 21. Tornadoes are reported in Lapeer on May 16 and Charlotte on May 23rd Detroit is soaked by a reported 71.19” of precipitation. That is the most reported in any location for one year.
1857 Detroit reported is below 32° from December 29th (1856) to January 31st when the temperature jumps to 37° with a mean of 13.9° it would be the coldest January until 1912° (13.1° Grand Rapids mean in January 1912 is 11.8°)
1860 A huge waterspout is reported on Lake Michigan, This is from a series of tornadoes that started in Iowa. The storm came a shore at Grand Haven
1861 Marquette reported a low of -33 on February 7th
1863 Strong thunderstorms rip sails and masks of ships in Thunder Bay near Alpena,
In April of 1863 daily weather records started at Lansing. The first year of records at Lansing April the mean was 46.5°, May the mean was 58.6° there was frost on May 6 the high for the month was 86. June. July and Auguest 1863 were cold at Lansing June had a mean of just 62.0° and there were two nights with lows in the 30’s July was also cold with a mean of just 66.5 there was frost on July 15th when the low reached 31° the high for that July was just 85. August was not any better with a mean of 66.6° and there was a hard freeze on August 29th when the low dropped to 26 and again the next night with a low of 30. Then came September and September 1863 at Lansing was very cold with a mean of 54.9° The high for the month was 83 on the 16th and 28th but get this the low for the month was 19 on the 21st and there were lows of 26, 27, 28, 30 31 and 32 in that September, After that cold September came a cold October with a mean of 44.0° the high for the month was 72 and the low was 16 November 1863 had a mean of 39.3 and the low for that month was +7 on the 30th December mean was 28.5 and that month had some wild swings in Temperature with the high for the month of 61 and the low of zero. I guess we can be glad that we did not live in Lansing in 1963.
While a snowstorm passes by to the south. Here in Michigan our snow drought will continue. Here in Grand Rapids there has not been a time in recorded history that we have had the little amount of snow fall we have had during the first 42 days of Met winter. At this time Grand Rapids has only had 1.1” of snow this January and since December 1st the total is only 4.3” that is -17.7” below where we should be. Around the state Muskegon January total 4.3” since December 1st 7.5” -30.4”. Over at Lansing it is the same January total so far 0.2” Since December 1st 1.5” -16.0” On the east side of the state Detroit just 0.2” in January and 0.7” for Met winter (-13.0”) at Flint January 0.9” for the met winter 4.7” (-11.4”) At Saginaw January 0.7” since December 1st 2.5” (-10.4”) Of course all locations had a good amount of snow in November but also all locations are below average for the season now.
UP north while there has been a snow cover there it total for the winter season is also below where they should be on January 11th here are some locations and their snow fall totals and seasonal departures. Alpena 30.3” (-3.2”) Gaylord 46.6” (-21.1”) Traverse City 23.5” (-24.2”) Petoskey 52.5” (-7.3”) in the UP their snow fall has been much heaver and in fact is near and above average for the total to date. Sault Ste Marie 63.9” (+4.2”) Marquette 96.4” (-1.9””)
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