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Shivering Michiganders, Here’s the Brutal, Cold Truth: It’s Not a Record

Tuesday’s -9 reading broke a record for the date, and it’s snowier this January than it ever has been in southeast Michigan. But as for the most below-zero days on record, we’re not even close.

This is the eighth-coldest January on record in Southeast Michigan, according to Matt Mosteiko, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake. (Patch file photo)
This is the eighth-coldest January on record in Southeast Michigan, according to Matt Mosteiko, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake. (Patch file photo)

Yes, it’s cold. Miserably cold. Treacherously cold. But record-breaking cold?

Nope, not for the long haul, anyway.

Tuesday morning’s bone-chilling -9 reading at the airport in Troy did break a record for Jan. 28 by one degree. It was -8 below in 1977. And factor in the wind chill and it feels like -25 and -30 across southeast Michigan, said Matt Mosteiko, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake.

But cheer up.

It could be and has been colder, Mosteiko said, consulting a spreadsheet filled with shiver-worthy statistics. The coldest day on record occurred on Jan. 21, 1984, when the actual temperature was minus 21.

That’s not to suggest that the bitter cold isn’t unusual. It is, Mosteiko said, but with nine days below zero so far this winter – and Wednesday, with a forecast low of -2 will probably make it 10 – southeast Michigan is nowhere near approaching the record.

“Right now, it’s No. 8 as far as the coldest January on record. It still does a have a chance to go a little colder,” Mosteiko said. “It could potentially be in the top five.”

There have been 13 winters with 10 or more days with below-zero readings since records began in 1880.

That’s below the seasonal average of 3.6 days below zero, but well above the coldest winter on record when there were 21, count them, 21 days below zero. That was in 1884-1885.

There’s no one alive to remember that.

What Michiganders do remember is last January.

“We had a whopping 10 inches of snow, and we had a day that was 62 degrees and another that was 59,” Mosteiko said. “Our coldest day was minus-one. It’s a lot different as far as a year ago is concerned.”

That’s for sure.

This January is the snowiest on record, with 38.3 inches of snow so far this month. The old record for the most snow in January was in 1978, with 29.6 inches.

This month also looks to shatter the old record for all-time snowiest month overall, which occurred in February 1908 when 38.4 inches fell.

“We’re expecting an inch of snow Thursday night, so we’re expecting to break that,” Mosteiko said.

That’s good news for some folks.

The extreme cold has created thicker ice cover and the Great Lakes and inland lakes.

“The ice fishermen don’t have to worry about falling through the ice,” Mosteiko said. “The people who have snow businesses – the people who are selling skies or snowmobiles – don’t have to worry.”

There’s no getting around the brutal cold truth, though.

“This is one of the worst winters for cold and snow we’ve experienced in the Detroit area,” Mosteiko said. “It’s very unusual.”

The culprit is a  jet pattern – an upper-level trough, in meteorology terms – that’s dipping far to the south, bringing cold air that normally resides in the Arctic Circle and upper Canada to the Great Lakes region.

“We’ve been in this relentless trough pattern,” Mosteiko said. “Eventually it will flip and bring warmer weather.”

The thick ice cover does mean that it will likely be colder for longer this spring.

“Just like the lakes normally keep us warmer in the winter, they will keep us cooler in the summer,” he said. “The influence of all that ice on the inland lakes means it will be a little cooler during the spring.”

Some Relief in Sight

By Wednesday, shivering southeast Michiganders can expect some relief, with a high around 15 forecast. Cold wind chills are expected to persist through the day Wednesday, with the feel-like temperature around -21, but the overnight low will be 8.

Temperatures will return to the 20s Thursday through Monday. That’s still below normal, Mosteiko said.

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