Menominee residents shivered in 30-below zero cold on February 18, 1936. This bitter morning was part of the â??most severe and prolonged cold wave of many wintersâ?? in Upper Michigan. The arctic blast was preceded by a snowstorm in late January that brought traffic to a halt from Iron Mountain to Menominee, Escanaba and Sault Ste. Marie.
The cold wave of 1936 will be remembered for its harsh combination of wind and cold that persisted for nearly a month over a wide area of the Midwest and Great Lakes.
Marquette experienced subzero cold on 16 out of the first 19 days of February 1936. Bitter northwesterly winds brought Munising its heaviest lake-effect snow in years, while numbing cold froze most of the cityâ??s fire hydrants and water pipes. On one day in early February, the lakeside community plummeted to 24 degrees below zero with a thermometer on the east side of town registering 40 below
Day after day of brutal cold led to a quick freeze up on the Great Lakes. By mid-February, ice from a foot to a foot-and-a-half thick clogged most harbors along Lake Superior. Duluth measured 31 inches in its harbor with thick ice extending out about 20 miles from shore. In Marquette, broken drift ice and ice floes extended well beyond the field of vision into the lake.
The patterns of all cold U.P. winters are similar. Through a process called reanalysis, it is now possible to reconstruct past upper air maps. Compare the reanalysis for February 18, 1936 with the upper-air map of this past January 6 during the cold blast (Images 1 & 2 above). Both images show a deep upper-air trough over the Great Lakes. Both troughs delivered bitter cold air into Upper Michigan, but the 2014 event was more extreme (all locations in the western Great Lakes had well below zero temperatures all day.)
Our current warm spell will be short lived. A major storm should form over the Central Plains and head straight for Upper Michigan while deepening. Heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain will accompany the system. Behind it, the pattern is forecast to revert to one thatâ??s been in place much of this cold winter (Image 3).