One of the mightiest, most widespread snowstorms on record struck the Upper Midwest and the U.P. on December 1-2, 1985.
This storm developed out of an unsettled weather pattern that persisted across North America all of November. All month it seemed we were on the verge of something big. All the ingredients were there??cold in Canada, warmth to the south and an active jet stream off the Pacific Ocean. However, no massive storms developed. Then finally, on the last weekend of November, which happened to be on the Thanksgiving holiday, things came together.
Cold air invaded much of the central U.S. on Thanksgiving, while a disturbance moved off the Pacific into Northern California the next day (Image 1 above). The system then developed over the Southern Plains on Saturday and began its move northeastward. The low intensified as it moved northward into an arctic air mass causing widespread heavy snow. The map on Sunday morning showed the storm near St. Louis, with snow falling from South Dakota into Minnesota and northern Iowa, much of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula (Image 2 & 3). The low deepened further as additional energy dug into the storm from the northern Rockies.
Heavy snow and strong winds buffeted the U.P. all day Sunday, December 1 into early the next day. Traffic on the busiest travel day after the holiday came to a virtual standstill. A daily-record 12 inches of snow was measured in Iron Mountain on December 2??the heaviest calendar day December snow total. The same day, a record 14 inches of snow came down in Ironwood. Additional snows from earlier in the storm brought totals to near a foot-and-a-half over much of the western half of Upper Michigan. At the National Weather Service (NWS) even heavier snow fell. More than inch-an-hour snowfall rates from late morning on December 1, 1985 through midnight gave that location 23.7 inches of snow. Additional snow the next day brought the total of this massive storm to 31.3 inches.
The strong northeast to north winds caused huge drifts as well as beach erosion. The Lake Superior basin was in the midst of a high water cycle during the mid-1980s. Enormous waves deposited debris on lakeside roads and even undermined a few lakeshore structures near Marquette.
Intense cold followed the storm and hung on through a good share of December 1985. The mean temperature at the NWS was 9.7, an impressive 8.2 degrees below average. In 1985, winter hit early and it hit hard.Winter is off to a quick start this year. While no major snowstorm has struck yet, a significant low is beginning to form over the Plains. A wave of mainly light snow will work out ahead of it tonight into Tuesday spreading from west to east across the U.P. The main low will then work up from the southwest late Tuesday night into Wednesday. At this point, it appears that the system will track across the central to eastern U.P. That means heavy snow is likely over roughly the western half of Upper Michigan while snow will mix with and change to rain over the eastern half. At this point, the dividing line between heavy snow and a mix looks to be from roughly Marquette to Iron Mountain (mostly snow west and snow changing to rain east). Behind this low, very cold air will flow in on strong west to northwesterly winds beginning Thursday.