One of the largest, most intense post-equinox snowstorms on record struck much of Upper Michigan March 23-25, 1979. This storm brought the snowbound Keweenaw up to 20 inches of snow and brought Marquette, Dickinson and Alger Counties to a standstill. The blizzard grew out of a slow-moving upper-air disturbance that drifted through the Desert Southwest on the first day of spring (Image 1 above). Low pressure connected with the trough, gradually developed to the northeast, impeded in its eastward progress by blocking over the western Atlantic (Image 2 & 3)).
Mild air ahead of the low caused rain to develop the night of the 23rd. Then colder air started pouring in on stiffening northeast to north winds, changing the rain to snow the next afternoon. The storm then cut loose, dumping heavy snow through the 25th. As the snow piled up, travel became nearly impossible. Numerous vehicles were abandoned, hampering snow-removal efforts. Eventually, authorities in Marquette, Alger and Dickinson counties were forced to close roads. The Marquette County Airport shut down for two days as winds gusted to 45 miles per hour. Gusts to 55 mile per hour were reported at Sawyer Air Force Base.
The volunteer rescue unit in Marquette County made about 70 runs to assist 240 persons during the storm. The most dramatic rescue involved 39 high school youths trapped at a vacated house on Lakeshore Boulevard. The kids, ranging in age from 16 to 18, had gathered for a party at the house. When they tried to leave, they found their cars buried in five- to 15-foot drifts. The house had no phone, so one of the students waded through the drifts to a neighborâ??s house to contact police.
Rescuers arrived and took much of the next day to evacuate the students. They were led out five at a time and had to walk more than two miles through drifts up to 15 feet deep. Visibility was so poor that the kids were tied together so none would be lost in the driving snow. After 30 students were evacuated in this manner, a DNR vehicle used for grooming snowmobile trails arrived and took out the remaining nine.
Outside of some frostbite, no serious injuries were reported. None of the youths were taken to the hospital; they just wanted to go home.
The city of Marquette tallied 18 inches of snow from the storm, while the new NWS site in Negaunee Township, 10 miles west of town, measured 27 inches of wind-whipped snow from the event.
The latest storm passed well south of the Great Lakes. Even Chicago and Detroit got only dustings. But areas to the southwest were hammered. Around a foot of snow fell near St. Louis, while 18.5 inches was measured at Illinoisâ??s State Capitol, Springfield.
Quiet weather will continue for Upper Michigan through the week. It appears that the current colder-than-average pattern will relax a bit as the week wears on. Some locations will likely reach around the 40-degree mark for a time in the afternoon, especially if an expected increase in sunshine occurs. This will not likely be the start of true spring yet. All medium range computer forecast models dig another trough into the area this weekend (Image 4). If this occurs, that means another cold snap as the month of April begins.