by CRAIG JAMES
Our first 70-degree day this season also turned out to be the first 80-degree day of the season. The thermometer hit 85 degrees on Sunday, April 10. It hasn’t been that warm since mid September and it was also a record high temperature for the date. On average, the first 70-degree day in our area occurs in the last half of March. However, back in 1950, the first 70-degree day did not occur until May 3. It was a very cold spring that year but temperatures were in the mid 60s during the month of January for a topsy-turvy winter and spring.
The earliest we have seen a 70-degree day was March 3, 1983, although in 1999 the thermometer hit 69 on February 11. The months of December, January and February are the only three months when the temperature has never hit 70 degrees in Grand Rapids. I guess that is a more comforting thought than the fact that the months of June, July and August are the only three months when we have not seen any snowflakes.
As I have written several times already, this looks like a very active spring for severe weather. Our area has been fortunate so far in that all of the severe weather has occurred around us and not here. On April 4, there were over 1,300 reports of wind damage in the southeastern United States in a 24-hour period, making it the greatest number of wind damage events (not tornadoes) ever reported in one day. Keep in mind, however, these records only go back to 1950.
Last Saturday evening, the 9th of April, an EF3 rated tornado three quarters of a mile wide with winds between 136 and 165 mph damaged at least 60 percent of the town of Mapleton in the western part of Iowa. Fortunately there were no deaths, but this is the same region of western Iowa where four Boy Scouts died in a tornado that struck a scouting ranch in June 2008.
Some of you may remember the severe weather that occurred in our area on April 11, 1965, which was a Palm Sunday. There were 47 tornadoes in the Midwest that day with 271 fatalities and 1,500 injuries; 1,200 of those injuries were in the state of Indiana. Here is a picture of a huge tornado with two separate funnels on the ground that day near Elkhart, Ind.
This tornado was given the strongest rating of an F5 because 25 homes in a trailer park were literally wiped off the face of the Earth, with no signs of them ever found. In our area, an F4 tornado produced a 21-mile-long damage path from near Allendale to Comstock Park. There were five fatalities and 142 injuries. Two other F4 tornadoes struck Branch and Hillsdale counties 30 minutes apart with 21 lives lost. An actual wind gust of 151 mph was reported near the tornado in the town of Tecumseh. Since we have had this type of severe weather in our area in the past, it is just a question of when, not if, we will see something like this occur again.
I also cannot rule out seeing at least a few more snowflakes again this month. It could even happen this weekend. This Palm Sunday, the 17th, will be way too cold for any tornadoes in the Midwest this year. The western part of the country continues to see more snow, too. Believe it or not, both the Squaw Valley Ski Area near Lake Tahoe and the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in southern California will still have enough snow on the ground that they are planning on having a day of skiing on July 4th!
Craig James has been retired since July 1, 2008, after 40 years of broadcasting television weather. He was chief meteorologist at WZZM-TV for 12 years and chief meteorologist at WOOD-TV for 24 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University, where he received a Centennial Fellowship Award. He was also honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.