An F4 tornado, summer temperatures, and a snowy start to spring top the list of Michigan weather events on this day in history. From the National Weather Service archives here are the Michigan weather events that happened on March 21.
Powerful winds swept across Southeast Michigan in 1913, as a strong cold front moved across the state. The wind storm was one of the strongest in the local climate record and caused widespread damage, countless injuries, and several fatalities. According to the historical record, east winds gusting to around 30 mph during the pre-dawn hours turned to the south, allowing the temperature in Detroit to rise to 57 degrees by 9 a.m. With the passage of the cold front, temperatures fell precipitously through the day, reaching a low of 23 degrees by midnight. As the cold air first began spilling into the area, winds initially turned southwesterly and began gusting to over 60 mph between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. The average wind speed during the following hour increased to 71 mph with a peak gust of nearly 80 mph. Shortly thereafter, at 11:15 a.m., a peak wind gust of 86 mph was recorded. Altogether, winds gusted in excess of 70 mph for approximately 3 hours while gusts in excess of 60 mph continued for around 6 hours. Damage was significant, widespread, and conservatively estimated at 500,000 dollars (equivalent to $11.5 million in 2012 dollars after adjusting for inflation). Buildings were razed, roofs and chimneys were destroyed, and trees were broken and uprooted. In addition, vehicles were overturned and there were accounts of a delivery wagon having been blown through the window of a restaurant on Lafayette Boulevard. In addition to several fatalities, one of which included a Grand Trunk watchman who was blown in front of a moving train, injuries to pedestrians were numerous and included arm, leg, and skull fractures. The strong winds also caused the Detroit River level to fall so low that the water intakes for manufacturing plants were cut off, resulting in their closure. On the Canadian side, thirteen freight train cars were derailed by large waves.
In 1953, an F4 tornado moved through St. Clair County at 4:21 p.m. This tornado is responsible for two deaths and 68 injuries. It ties with an F4 tornado that formed June 8, 1953 as the strongest tornado ever to hit St. Clair County.
Spring starts on a snowy note in 1983. Record daily snowfall of 6 to 8 inches fell from Muskegon to Lansing.
In 1988, bitterly cold weather prevailed across the northeastern U.S. Portland, Maine reported their coldest spring day of record with a morning low of 5 degrees, and an afternoon high of just 21 degrees. In Michigan, Marquette reported a record low of minus 15 degrees, according to the National Weather Summary. Other Michigan records include Sault Ste. Marie minus 9 degrees, and Alpena minus 5 degrees.
The same storm that brought freezing rain to eastern Upper Michigan gave Marquette and Alger Counties seven to eight inches of snow in 1994. This was a lake enhanced, heavy snow storm. It resulted from the forced lifting of lake moistened northeast winds by hilly terrain over central Upper Michigan. While the freezing rain did not seem to cause too many problems, the heavy snow caused some power lines to come down, and that resulted in about 1,000 customers losing electrical power during the storm. Over eastern Upper Michigan, about 0.2 to 0.3 inches of ice accumulated on two to three inches of snow. Surprisingly few accidents were reported with this event.
In 2008, a record 6.6 inches of snow fell at Grand Rapids on the first day of spring. Muskegon had a record 7 inches, while 8 to 14 inches of snow fell south of a line from Holland to Jackson. The winter storm hit the greater Metro Detroit region. While most of the metro area received 3 to 7 inches of snow, a band of 8 to 10 inches fell from Dexter and the Irish Hills across Saline, Tecumseh, Dundee, and into Temperance.
Spring feels more like summer in 2012, as temperatures reach all-time record highs for the month of March. Grand Rapids hits 87 degrees, during a remarkable string of four straight days in the 80s. This unprecedented warmth leads to March, 2012 becoming the warmest March on record. Unfortunately, the heat brings fruit trees into early bloom, and colder weather at the end of the month and in April results in massive losses to orchards and vineyards. This warmth is felt across the state. In addition to Grand Rapids all the following cities observe their warmest March day ever: Muskegon 82 degrees, Lansing 86 degrees, Alpena 87 degrees, Flint 86 degrees, Houghton Lake 85 degrees, Marquette 81 degrees, and Sault Ste. Marie 83 degrees. Detroit sees a record high of 84 degrees, but their warmest March day occurs on March 22, with a high of 86 degrees.