Remembering Michigan’s Epic Blizzard of 1938 in the Upper Peninsula
This one was a doozie, to say the least. Even by U.P. standards. It is still called "the worst of them all" and also is one of the storms that qualify for the popular phrase "Storm of the Century" in Michigan.
Between January 20 and 27, 1938, massive amounts of snow fell across the Upper Peninsula, especially on the 24th and 25th. During 30 hours between those two days, snowfall didn't stop even for a minute. In the western and central regions where elevation is at its highest, it is estimated that accumulations were between 30 and 40 inches (or 2 1/2 to 3 1/3 feet). Marquette County reported around 18 inches of snow and the blizzard conditions were experienced as far south as Escanaba, where an estimated 10 inches of snow was reported.
But some of the snowdrifts created by strong winds, at or above 50 m.p.h. which came with the snow system, were what really made things downright crazy. Some up to 30 feet high were reported, including in the photo above posted by NASA where snow nearly reached the tops of utility poles.
Drifts reached about 18 feet in Ironwood. News reports about students getting stranded at school came out and they had to spend four nights sleeping on gym mats because there was no way for anyone to get there. Drifts as high as 17 feet stacked up in the cities of Marquette and Negaunee and, like in Ironwood, the drifts were so high that snow-plows were rendered useless. Roads and railroad tracks were shut down for several days.
And Marquette had more than just the snow causing problems. A fire at the opera house and masonic temple happened amidst the storm and there were worries that the entire town might end up engulfed in flames. Getting it under control was hampered because of the terrible weather. Strong winds made it hard for water from the hoses to work properly and a firetruck even ended up stuck and had to be dugout. The fire was eventually brought under control, saving the city. But damage estimates, in today's money, were in the millions.
On January 25, 1938, Michigan Governor Frank Murphy declared a state of emergency for the U.P., calling it the worst blizzard to strike the area since the 1890s. Amazingly, only two fatalities were reported from the weather event. One was a plow driver who became suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and the other was a lumberjack who froze inside his truck.