Without question, the warmest winter since records began in Upper Michigan occurred in 1877-78. On January 20 1878, a Lâ??Anse correspondent for The Mining Journal sent in a butterfly he had caught seven miles north of town. One source maintains that lilac bushes were budding in Marquette. By the end of the month, a reporter in Negaunee declared â??storm doors are more ornamental than useful this winterâ?? as January ended in Marquette with an average temperature at 24.8 degrees, almost 9 degrees above average. By way of comparison, this monthâ??s average through the 19th is 8.9 degrees.
Landlooker and entrepreneur John Longyear traveled Menominee country as an agent for the Keweenaw Canal Company during this remarkable season. He called the winter of 1877-78 the â??Snowless Winter.â?? â??Almost no snow fell during the season,â?? he recalled. â??Lumbermen were put to great expense and inconvenience thereby, as they depended on snow to help move the logs.â?? He reminisced about a trip through the south central U.P. between the Paint and Michigamme rivers. There was â??just a sprinkle of snow on the groundâ?? in the region during February, â??just enough to make it white.â??
As the season progressed, it just got warmer. Sleighing, a major mode of winter transportation during a 19th century U.P. winter, was â??completely ruinedâ?? in Negaunee by mid-February. The month ended a spectacular 16.7 degrees above average in Marquette. March continued the incredibly mild weather. Farmers planted fields by mid-month and folks around Munising were picnicking in the woods as if it â??twas summer.â?? March also came in at over 16 degrees above normal.
The winter of 1877-78 stands alone for its extreme and persistent warmth. The irony of this winter is that it occurred in an otherwise very cold period. A stagecoach regularly ran on the ice of Lake Superior most winters from Marquette to the forge at present-day Christmas in Alger County during the 1860s and 1870s. It did not happen during this famous winter. The ice on the pond in Marquette was not even thick enough throughout this warm season for ice skaters! This winter in contrast with the rest of the decades of the 1870s and 80s show the wide range of extremes that are possible during an Upper Michigan winter.