New England tradition calls a late-season storm that brings the greatest snow cover of the winter the â??Crown of Winter Storm.â?? It doesnâ??t happen every year in New England or Upper Michigan. Often a large amount of snow melts before a big March storm occurs. When it does happen, the snow cover left after the storm is impressive.
One of the most memorable Crown of Winter Storms began 17 years ago today. This system gradually developed the second week of March out of a large ocean storm centered off the West Coast. On March 12, nascent low pressure was situated over Colorado and drifted into western Kansas (Image 1). 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.
Snow began falling lightly across the U.P. on the evening of March 13 and then began to pick up. By the morning of the 14th, the deepening low had drifted northeastward (Image 2), producing a heavy snowstorm over much of the Upper Peninsula.
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 overhead.
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. This storm, combined with minor snowfalls that followed, established a record seasonal snowfall (272.2 inches) for the second year in a row.
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.
Mild early spring weather will only last into Friday. Another shot of cold air will follow this weekend. There are rumblings in the medium-range models of a decent storm developing over the Plains early next week. This time around, there are hints that the low could lift far enough north to give the U.P. significant snowfall. The system that would produce the storm is still west of the Aleutians, so this is certainly not a slam dunk. However, if youâ??re longing for a shot at a post St. Pattyâ??s Day Storm, this scenario does hold out some hope.