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Posted on Fri, Feb 26, 2010 : 10:30 a.m.

The worst snowstorm since when?

By Edward Vielmetti

Every proper news story about snowstorms tries to put it in some historical context, either by noting the snowfall during the season or comparing it to some legendary event of the past.

Here's some of those notorious events for our area, so that next time the flurries come down you can say with confidence that it was much worse in 1974, even if you weren't actually in Ann Arbor at the time to experience it.

Thanksgiving, 1974

The snowstorm on the weekend after Thanksgiving in 1974 made national news, with the Los Angeles Times reporting on abandoned cars clogging the streets and a UPI account telling of a helicopter ride circling a deserted city. Freeways were totally shut down.

The year 1974 is a bit of a blind spot for Internet news accounts; I wasn't able to find nearly as much information as I wanted to in the time I had to write this post.

The Snow Bowl, 1950

The biggest snowstorm in Michigan football history happened in Columbus, Ohio. In 1950, Michigan defeated Ohio State 9-3 in the "Snow Bowl," a game played the day after the worst blizzard since 1913. Wolverine Historian has a highlight reel showing the game, which was played in 30 mile-an-hour wind and nine inches of snow on the field. Both teams used an offense that depended on punting on first down in an attempt to get the other team to fumble. Michigan punted 24 times.

Great White Hurricane of 1913

The National Weather Service account of the 1913 storm notes that its worst destructive effect was on the shipping lanes on Lake Huron, where approximately 235 people lost their lives in shipwrecks. The ships John McGean, Isaac M. Scott, Argus, Hydrus, James Carruthers, Wexford, Regina and Charles S. Price all went down in the gales.

David Brown's 2002 book White Hurricane : A Great Lakes November Gale And America's Deadliest Maritime Disaster has a detailed account of the storm.

1886 snow

National Weather Service historian William Deedler wrote a account of the 1974 and 1886 storms noting the meteorological similarities between the two events, with this lovely quote from the official weather logs for 1886: "The storm was unprecedented in fierceness, snowfall and blockades in the history of the service and the oldest inhabitants can recall nothing to equal it."

Ann Arbor has it easy

Compared to other parts of the state, Ann Arbor is pretty well off when it comes snow.

Storms in 1928 totally cut off the Upper Peninsula town of Detour, leading to an Associated Press story in the Sarasota Herald of a dog sled team and "snow motor" being used to bring in relief supplies of food and medicine.

Michigan Technological University in Houghton is known for its snow. The snowfall records there tell of the 355 inches of snow in the winter of 1978-1979. In May of 1954, 11 inches of snow fell.

Snowy reading

A 1998 Librarian's Picks from the Ann Arbor District Library recommends Picture Books, Fiction, Folktales and Nonfiction with Stormy Themes. The list tends toward books in print in 1998; a number of these are no longer in print, but still may be available second hand.

Barrett, Judi. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. 1978. "Life is delicious in the town of Chewandswallow where it rains soup and juice, snows mashed potatoes, and blows storms of hamburgers--until the weather takes a turn for the worse."

Pryor, Bonnie. Birthday Blizzard. 1993.

Cocca-Leffler, Maryann. Ice-Cold Birthday. 1992.

Wetterer, Margaret K. The Snow Walker. 1996.

Stevens, Carla. Anna, Grandpa, and the Big Storm. 1982. "Anna's grandfather is bored with city life until he and Anna are stranded on the Third Avenue El during the blizzard of 1888."

Edward Vielmetti walks through the snow, uphill both ways, to work at


Mark Cowan

Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

I remember the snows of 1974 in Tacoma, best sledding ever! Back then of course, popular scientific belief was that we were headed into an ice age. My, how science has changed.

Meg Geddes

Fri, Feb 26, 2010 : 11:33 a.m.

You're welcome. (ork ork)