Rapidly accumulating snow, high winds, cold temperatures. and low visibility define what we expect from a Michigan snow storm. When really intense we call them a blizzard. A storm in January 1978 left thirty-four inches of snow piled in drifts created by winds that reached 70 miles per hour. Due to the blizzard, 390,000 Michigan homes lost electric power and 50,000 miles of roadway were blocked with snow. Records show that 104,000 vehicles were stuck on roadways throughout Michigan and abandoned by their owners until they could be dug out after the storm had passed.
In February 2011 the "Groundhog Day Blizzard" was the headline event of the winter. This storm stretched from Oklahoma to New England, cutting a path through Michigan. It produced blizzard conditions from southwestern Michigan through the Saginaw Valley and the Thumb. Snowfall in Central Lower Michigan ranged from 10 to 15 inches. The wind gusts in excess of 40 mph created whiteout conditions and snow drifts of 3 to 5 feet. Travel was nearly impossible in many areas. Other parts of the Lower Peninsula received up to 12 inches of snow from the same storm.
Ice is also a serious winter hazard. Thin layers of ice on roadways make driving dangerous and greater accumulations of ice on trees and power lines can cause power outages and serous disruptions in our daily activities. As recently as February 2006 Midland County experienced an ice storm that left many people without power, heat and water for several days.
Winter Weather Warnings and Advisories
Stay informed about the weather and make plans for work, travel, or recreation accordingly. Check your favorite source of weather information to find out what's in the forecast. Listen for watches, warnings or advisories that may have been issued by the National Weather Service.
Preparing For A Winter Storm
At home, keep a battery-powered flashlight, radio, extra food that requires little or no preparation, and bottled water. Make sure you have extra blankets and lots of warm clothes. Be aware of potential fire and carbon monoxide hazards if you plan to use an emergency heating source such as a fireplace, wood stove or space heater.
Emergency generators are also great tools for winter emergencies. A generator of sufficient capacity can temporarily operate your furnace, refrigerator and other essential items in your home when power is lost. Get advice from a licensed electrician about what type and size of generator will work best for your situation. After purchasing your generator make sure you have your electrical service wired by a licensed electrician to accommodate it. This will help avoid damage to your home by an incorrect installation. An electrical service properly designed for your generator will also eliminate the problem of back-feeding the power grid, which is a hazard to power company employees working to restore service.
In a vehicle, keep a shovel, blankets, windshield scraper, container of sand, booster cables, tow rope, flashlight, battery-operated radio, first aid kit, a change of clothing, and high energy snacks. This is a lot to carry in any vehicle. You may wish to make a "travel emergency kit" that contains many of these items. Put the kit in your vehicle when you are going to be traveling a long distance or if you know that hazardous conditions have been forecast. Keep a cell phone with you to call for emergency help when needed.
During A Winter Storm
At home, to save heat, close off unneeded rooms, cover windows at night and block cracks under outside doors with towels. Eat right. Maintaining adequate food and water intake makes it possible for your body to store and use energy for producing its own heat.
If stranded in a vehicle call for help with your cellular telephone. Attach a brightly colored cloth to your antenna or somewhere on the vehicle to attract attention. Run the engine about 10 minutes each hour for heat. Open your window slightly for fresh air and make sure your exhaust pipe isn't blocked with snow. Turn on your emergency flashers when the engine is running in order to attract attention. Exercise by moving arms, legs, fingers and toes to keep blood circulating and to keep warm.
If stranded outside, try to stay dry and cover all exposed parts of your body. Prepare a windbreak or snow cave for protection from the wind. If possible, build a fire for heat and to attract attention. Don't eat snow. It will lower your body temperature. Melt it first.