[an error occurred while processing this directive] Michigan Weather and Our Ancestors
by Ronnie August

Just as the weather affects each of us everyday, so it did with our ancestors as well. It affected their crops, travel and every other aspect of their lives, possibly to a greater degree than it does us today.  In an effort to bring some of their weather-related lives to light, I have turned to our wonderful meteorologist at Storm Team 8 at WOOD-TV for information.  My deepest thanks and gratitude goes out to Joe Sullivan and Craig James who have pointed me to valuable resources for knowing and understanding the weather of Michigan. And a big thanks to the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids for their detailed historical information.

From the book, Michigan Weather by Richard A. Keen, here is a timeline of the weather in Michigan along with some local climate data, and a list of men who have recorded the weather here in Kent County.

Michigan Weather EventsKent County Local Climate DataWeather Recorders for the Grand Rapids AreaAdditional Sources of Information


1784: Dr. Anthon records one of Detroit's most severe winters in history.  Temperatures as low as and lower than -15 degrees. A total of 23 sub-zero mornings.

1821: The Detroit Gazette reports temperatures of -27 degrees upstate in March and 8" of wet snow falling at Detroit on April 18.

1823: U. S. Surgeon at Fort Brady starts keeping his "Diary of the Weather."  This record continues for 32 years. February dips to -30 degrees. The average for the month is 8.9 degrees and the warmest month is 33 degrees.

1826: Thirty-seven below in February at Fort Brady matches the twentieth century low for Sault Ste. Marie set in 1934.

1827: Fort Brady musters only a high of 84 degrees for the summer.

1834: Michigan's first recorded tornado is reported near Detroit in February. Another tornado at Kalamazoo on October 18 destroys buildings but causes no injuries. Around noon one summer day, the St. Mary's River at Sault Ste. Marie suddenly empties and, an hour later, just as suddenly fills back up. Many who go out to catch the stranded fish narrowly escape the returning surge, apparently a seiche. (A seiche is an oscillation of the surface of a lake or landlocked sea that varies in a period from a few minutes to several hours.)

1836: Winter starts early November 1835 and lasts through April 1836. The histories of the time call it "the starving time."

1837: Winter and spring colder than previous year. Summer averages only 56.8 degrees.

1838: Wet summer lifts waters of Lake Michigan and Huron to 584' above sea level in July. The high waters was the last hurrah of the long wet spell that began around 1000 A.D.

1838: Flooding of the Grand River.*

1839: The mercury soars to 96 degrees at Fort Brady.

1843: At Edwardsburg, Michigan, snow lies 2' deep at the end of March, and sledding continues until April 8 in the Detroit area. On April 3, ducks are spotted heading back south over Detroit after foolishly flying north the week before. Thousands of cattle starve as hay supplies run out. Spring like weather finally arrives around April 10 but Lake Erie doesn't open for navigation until May 6. A warm summer brings a good crop season.

1845: Second mildest of the nineteenth century in Detroit. A 20 foot high seiche on Lake Superior is reported at Copper Harbor.

1846: Second warmest summer at Sault Ste. Marie.

1848: Mild winter allows ships to cruise Lake Erie between Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit in February.

1852: Flooding of the Grand River.*

1853: Temperatures reportedly soar to 106 degrees at Detroit on June 22 and unofficial extreme temperatures at Fort Brady.

1855:  Up to 3 feet of snow buries the snow belt at the south end of Lake Michigan. Tornadoes strike Lapeer County and Charlotte. Detroit is soaked by 71.19" of precipitation.

1860: A huge waterspout, last of a series of tornadoes that began in Iowa, is sighted from ships on southern Lake Michigan on the evening of June 4. Damaging winds from the same storm system strike near Grand Haven later that night.

1863: A "violent hurricane" (possibly a tornado) rips sails and snaps masts on ships in Thunder Bay, near Alpena, on Aug. 21.

1866: Tornadoes touch down near Owosso and St. Johns on June 25.

1868: Lansing records its lowest temperature ever at -37 degrees.

1869: Early autumn records temperatures of 30 degrees in August and 7 degrees in October in Lansing.

1870: A "hurricane and hail storm of terrible fury" strikes Jonesville on June 20.

1871: Summer brings only half the normal rainfall. State is a tinderbox. October 9, fires whip out of control and by the next day, 2.5 million acres of forest and an estimated 200 people are consumed by the flames across Michigan.

1872: An unofficial -33 degrees at Grand Rapids on December 24, the coldest ever reported there.

1873: Heavy snows and intense cold.

1875: Coldest year on record at Detroit, Lansing, Escanaba, Marquette, and every other weather station in the state that kept records that year.

1878: Warmest winter ever in upper Midwest. Possibly due to El Niño.

1881: Wet year overall. The soggy autumn, however, comes too late to prevent one of Michigan's greatest disasters ever, a week of forest fires in the Thumb from Aug. 31 to Sept. 6. Fires wipe out one million acres, 20 villages, and between 169 to 282 people die.

1882: Moderate temperatures.

1883: Flooding of the Grand River.*

1888: This is the sixth and final year of a protracted cool spell with consistently below normal temperatures for all of Michigan.

1889: Detroit's driest year. 21.06" of precipitation.

1894: Lansing has a completely rainless August.

1895: Gales on all five Great Lakes.

1896: Five powerful tornadoes on east side of state.

1899: The most widespread arctic outbreak in U. S. history. Local all-time records for cold range from -24 degrees at Battle Creek and Grand Rapids to -43 degrees at Holland. A 70 lb. meteorite thunders across sky and lands at Thomas Hill on Saugatuck Road, Allegan County, on July 10.

1900: Thousands of ripe peach trees are flattened by 72 m.p.h. winds. Grand River floods due to dam breaking in July.*

1904: March: Probably the best known and largest of the Grand River Floods. West side of Grand Rapids devastated by this flood.*

1956: April 3, the strongest tornado to hit West Michigan and the west side of Grand Rapids. Winds exceeding 260 m.p.h.

1965: March; dreariest month ever with only 94 hours of sunshine in Grand Rapids.

1968: Brilliant midday meteor streaks from north to south above Grand Rapids on Aug. 27, rattling city with sonic booms.

*The Grand River floods mentioned above were not the only years that the river flooded but were some of the largest and most destructive ones. See below for more information on the floods. ~RA


Station: Grand Rapids Airport
Elevation: 784 feet
Year Records Begin: 1849
Avg. Temp. July
Maximum 83
Mininum 60
Avg. Temp Jan.
Maximum 29
Minimum 15
Temp. Extremes
High 108
Low -29
Last/First Freezing Temp.
Spring May 6
Fall Oct 8
Avg. Annual Precip. 33.73
Avg. Annual Snow 72.3


A. F. Ball beginning in May of 1849 and continued for 18 years until 1867.
Alfred O. Currier recorded from March 1854 until December 1859.
L. R. Strong recorded from 1854 to 1860.
E. S. Holmes recorded from January 1860 to May 1861.
F. M. Kendall recorded from September 1882 to June 1884; with another set of observations from February 1887 to February 1888

D. R. Sweet, December 1891 to March 1893.
Theo Karmsey to July 1893.
Talbert Gridley to August 1895.
John Kremer to March 1896.

A. K. Lamb serving from 1895 until December 1896 for the Fire Department.
M. G. Canfield to June 1902.
H. C. Bettinghouse to June 1905 .

C. F. Schneider from 1903 to 1921. He went into banking.

A. E. Brown from 1921 to 1923

W. H. Tracy from 1923 to 1932

Paul E. Johnson from 1932 to 1957

Fred A. Baughman from 1958 to 1965

James Zoller from 1966 to 1968.

Marshall E. Soderberg from 1968 to 1975.

Jack R. Cooley from 1976 to 1994.

Daniel G. Houser from 1994 to present.



Other sites connected with the weather in Kent County:

Earthquake History of Michigan

Tornados In Michigan

National Weather Service in Grand Rapids

And for current weather updates, check out Storm Team 8 at <http://www.woodtv.com>.

The book, Michigan Weather, is not available at the bookstores any longer but there are  copies at the Grand Rapids Library as well as the larger libraries around the state. This book if full of very interesting information about the weather in Michigan.

The book, The Story of the Grand River, by Don Chrysler is an excellent source of information on everything connected with the Grand River and highly recommended for your personal library. Includes names of riverboats; owners and captains of the boats as well as a great deal more information. It is also available through the Grand Rapids Library though it may not be checked out.  I was able to purchase my copy from:

The Grand Lady Riverboat
4243 Indian Mounds Dr. S.W.
Grandville, Michigan 49418
My cost was $6.00 including shipping and handling.

I don't know if it is available anywhere else.

Neither I nor the Kent County GenWeb derive any compensation for recommending this book; Its just a really good book! ~RA.

Transcriber: RA
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/histories/weather.html 
Created: 25 July 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]