Bitter cold, mild highs and blowing snow top the list of Michigan weather events on this day in history. From the National Weather Service archives here are the events that happened on Dec 21.
Temperatures soared to record highs around 60 degrees across Lower Michigan on the winter solstice in 1967. A sharp cold front came through in the evening and was followed by two to four inches of snow on the following day. Daily record highs include Grand Rapids 60 degrees, Muskegon 60 degrees, Lansing 61 degrees, Alpena 58 degrees, Detroit 61 degrees, Flint 60 degrees, Houghton Lake 55 degrees, and Marquette 53 degrees.
In 1989, it is one of the coldest December days in history with dangerous, bitter cold arctic air across Lower Michigan. A strong upper level low combined with a deep upper level trough prevailed from the Rockies to the East Coast. The high temperature at Muskegon, Grand Rapids and Flint are only 5 degrees above zero, and Houghton Lake 4 degrees, the lowest maximum temperature ever recorded in the month of December at all four sites. Saginaw only reached 6 degrees; Detroit had a high of 8 degrees, Lansing 4 degrees, Alpena 5 degrees, Marquette 2 degrees and Sault Ste. Marie minus 1 degree. These highs occurred after morning low temperatures below zero, including a record minus 8 degrees at Grand Rapids, minus 11 degrees at Alpena, minus 6 degrees for Saginaw, and minus 10 degrees for Houghton Lake. Two of the coldest readings are from the U.P., with Marquette at minus 21 degrees and Sault Ste. Marie at minus 22 degrees. This was just one of many cold days during December 1989 which is the coldest December on record for Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Flint, and the second coldest for Detroit.
A low pressure system moved into the western Great Lakes region in 2000. Southeast winds ahead of this system triggered heavy lake effect snow across eastern Chippewa County, where 6 to 12 inches fell from late in the evening on Dec. 20, through the morning of Dec. 21. Meanwhile, south winds developed on Lake Michigan ahead of this system. This triggered heavy lake effect snow across western Mackinac County. Snow fell from the early morning hours to late in the afternoon and produced 8 to 10 inches of snow in Mackinac County. Snow fell over all of the Upper Peninsula with the greatest amounts in areas where the system snow was enhanced by the moisture and instability from Lakes Michigan and Superior. Twenty-four hour snowfall amounts include 12 inches in Ironwood, 16 inches in Manistique, 16 inches in Copper Harbor, 11 inches in Chatham, and 10 inches in Ontonagon and Houghton.
In 2004, a southerly flow ahead of a strong Alberta clipper system produced heavy lake enhanced snows for counties downwind of Lake Michigan on Dec 20 and the early morning of Dec 21. Strong southerly winds gusting to around 40 mph also resulted in near blizzard conditions across portions of Alger, Delta, Menominee, Luce and Schoolcraft counties due to extreme blowing and drifting of snow. Roads become quickly snowpacked and hazardous which led to numerous minor accidents. The storm also forced the temporary closure of U.S. Highway 2 between Rapid River in Delta County and Manistique in Schoolcraft County as well as closing many area schools. Twenty-four hour snowfall totals included 10 inches at Menominee, several 10 to 12 inch reports in Schoolcraft County, 12 inches at Grand Marais in Alger County and 12 inches at Newberry in Luce County. Cold Arctic air behind the system then dumped heavy lake effect snows over Ontonagon County on Dec 21. Rockland reported a 12-hour snowfall amount of 9 inches. Places in western Chippewa and Mackinac Counties saw around a foot of snow.
In 2008, a clipper low pressure system moving through Wisconsin brought heavy lake enhanced snow to portions of Delta County on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21. The system also brought heavy lake effect snow to portions of Marquette County and the Keweenaw Peninsula. Wind gusting around 40 mph at times also caused considerable blowing of snow over the Keweenaw Peninsula. The observer along Highway M-35 near the Menominee County line measured 8.6 inches of lake enhanced snow in the 12-hour period ending on the morning of the Dec 21. A spotter in Toivola measured 6 inches of snow in 7 hours on the Dec. 21. Northwest winds gusting to 25 to 30 mph at the Houghton County Airport occasionally lowered visibility to one half mile through the event.