The winter of 1976-77 started early. Once the cold came, it did not leave, making this one of the coldest winters of the Twentieth Century.
One eastern U.P. resident remembered how quick winter came on. ??It was mid-October, a Friday,?? remembers Don Michelin, a resident of Newberry in 1976. ??It had been a real nice day. We had been out goose hunting all day and the weather changed in the afternoon; it started snowing.?? Michelin recalls that by half-time of the football game that evening it had snowed eight inches. Over a foot fell by the time the storm ended on Saturday. ??And it never thawed,?? adds Michelin. ??It stuck and kept snowing.??
With the snow came the cold. Eight record low temperatures were established in December 1977; records which still stand as of this writing. The month started cold with records of 10 and 12 below on the 2nd and 3rd. December 1976 ended frigid with a numbing 25 degrees below zero on the 30th. The average temperature was 14.6 degrees, an impressive 8.9 degrees below the long-term average.
The cold deepened as 1977 began. Mercury-congealing cold hit south central sections of Upper Michigan. The low hit 42 below zero at Stambaugh in Iron County on this date 32 years ago. It was the coldest reading in nearly 60 years; settling only a handful of degrees from the all-time low of 47 below during the historic February cold wave of 1899. A little farther north, Amasa, a perennial Iron County cold spot, registered 45 below on January 9, 1977. The same night, the temperature dropped to 30 below at Iron Mountain. In Marquette, while the influence of Lake Superior kept things a little milder, the average for the month was still more than 8 degrees below normal.
The cold of ??76-??77 was far reaching. Lake Erie was already completely frozen over by the second week of January. The largest ice buildup in years formed on the rest of the Great Lakes. On Chesapeake Bay, several ships were reported trapped in thick ice. The two tugboats that tried to rescue them also became stuck. By month??s end, a historic blizzard swept off frozen Lake Erie and isolated Buffalo, New York for nearly a week.
The bitter cold began to moderate during the middle of February but a couple more snowstorms visited the area in March. April and May 1977 turned into balmy spring months. Despite a relatively quick ending, the winter of 1976-77 made an impression on many U.P. residents. ??That was about the longest, harshest winter that I??d seen,?? recalls Michelin.
Last year was about the mildest winter most U.P. residents have experienced; and this winter has certainly not been tough, either. As we approach the coldest time of the year on average, what are the prospects of some real winter? The pattern ahead looks to evolve to one that features high-latitude blocking. When this occurs, we can have our coldest weather. Looking ahead, the global forecast models are showing blocking developing (Image 1 above). If this does happen, it will mean at least a brief period of frigid air during the coldest time of the year.