New Englanders use the expression â??crown of winter stormâ?? to describe a snowstorm that occurs late in the season, which pushes snow cover to the highest point of the winter. Here in the Upper Peninsula, a storm like this happens on occasion when the winter snow cover doesnâ??t melt and a big storm occurs sometime in March. The classic crown of winter storm occurred beginning 15 years ago today.
The winter of 1996-97 was the second snowy winter in a row. Just before Christmas, the storms began, and they came at regular, frequent intervals through January 1997. A thick covering of snow blanketed the entire U.P., and while it didnâ??t snow much through February into early March, much of the snow remained. During the second week of March a disturbance peeled off a large ocean storm centered off the West Coast and drifted eastward. On March 12, nascent low pressure was situated over eastern Colorado (Image 1 above). At the same time, a strong, cold ridge of arctic high pressure anchored over northwestern Canada ridged into Upper Michigan. The next day, a vast amount of warm, moist air began lifting over the dome of cold air entrenched over parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. As the system sent its energy slowly northeastward, snow broke out in these areas. It took quite a while, though, before the snow lifted into Upper Michigan.
The Kansas low initially slid into to southern Missouri, keeping snow to the south. Then as the upper trough started amplifying in the Plains, the southwesterly flow ahead of it drew the storm northeastward. Snow began falling lightly across the U.P. on the evening of March 13 and then began to pick up. By the next morning, the deepening low had drifted northeastward, producing a heavy snowstorm over much of the Upper Peninsula (Image 2).
The local paper called it a â??St. Paddyâ??s winter blowout.â?? A foot of snow fell in Escanaba and also around the Iron Mountain area. Farther north, the influence of Lake Superior added considerably to storm totals. The systemâ??s movement created the perfect environment for lake enhancement. Very heavy snow fell all day around Marquette as the low continued intensifying to the southeast and the upper trough deepened just to our west (Image 3).
A combination of moist north-northeasterly flow and added lift provided by elevation produced exceptionally heavy snow in the north central U.P. highlands. A 24-hour snowfall record of 26.2 inches was set at the Weather Service on the 14th. The 63 inch snow cover measured that evening became the deepest snow cover ever reported at the station. Truly, this storm deserved the title of the â??Crown of Winter.â??
The rest of March 1997 turned peaceful; no more major storms occurred and temperatures slowly warmed under the influence of the increasing sun angle. The thick snow cover melted only slowly; 50 inches or more remained on the ground through the end of the month. April began with an exceptional warm-up. Temperatures rose into the 60s on two days early in the month and the snow melted quickly. While the majority of the winterâ??s snowpack left the first half of the month, the cold season was not entirely through. May 1997 brought more â??backward springâ?? weather to a large portion of Upper Michigan.
Did we just experience the 2013 version of the â??Crown of Winter Storm?â?? The snow cover at the NWS this morning stood at 43 inchesâ??the deepest cover of the winter. Itâ??s possible we may still pile it on before this month is through. Cold will linger and it looks like two systems will roll through the Great Lakes over the next 6 days or so. The first one will be a fast-moving â??clipperâ?? that will develop along the arctic front that will pass through here at the end of the week. This system will likely dump the heaviest snow to the south in Wisconsin, though our far southern border areas may pick up a few inches. A more significant system will move in off the Pacific over the weekend. Depending on the exact track of the low, significant snow is possible early next week.