February 20, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Lightning, rain, expected high winds whip Metro Detroit

Tony Jones, 50, of Detroit, walks south on Bagley approaching 6th Street in Detroit on Thursday. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

What began as snow and sleet early Thursday is switching over to rain as temperatures rise into the afternoon hours.

“We had a burst of snow at about 11 a.m. as a leading edge of precipitation came into the area,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Thompson, working out of the White Lake Township station.

“As of noon, we began to switch over to rain. Most of the areas in southeastern Michigan will begin the switch within the next hour or so.”

At 2 p.m., the temperature at Detroit Metropolitan Airport was 34 degrees.

“But it will climb into the mid 40s later today,” Thompson said.

More than 100 lightning strikes were recorded by the National Weather Service office at the Michigan-Ohio border at 10:40 a.m.

Another lightning strike was recorded at 11 a.m. in the Detroit River northeast of Belle Isle.

The fire chief of the Allen Park Fire Department said lightning touched down in his community several times, including near the firehouse.

“It shook our fire station. I said ‘Wow. It’s not even April,’ ” Fire Chief Doug LaFond said.

Along with a winter weather advisory (which ends at 4 p.m.), the weather service has also issued a high-wind watch for southeastern Michigan.

“We have high winds coming in late tonight with gusts of up to 45 mph,” Thompson said. “We may either issue a high wind warning or advisory later today.”

Residents of southeastern Michigan can also expect to see patches of heavy fog on Thursday as warmer air moves over the thick blanket of snow covering the metro area.

“The winds will begin late Thursday and last throughout the day on Friday,” said meteorologist Mike Richter.

“There is a chance of snow showers on Friday with minor accumulation, but mostly toward Flint and Saginaw.”

DTE Energy Co. is preparing for the storm coming to the region Thursday night and is warning its customers to do the same.

“We have already sent out alerts to our customers about the possibility of high winds,” DTE spokeswoman Randi Berris said. “Even though we work hard year-round for the reliability of the system, Mother Nature can cause problems. We are anticipating outages. We’re asking our customers to be prepared, stock up now on batteries, flashlights, blankets and water.”

The high for Friday will be in the mid 30s, with a night-time low of about 26.

According to the weather service, there is little chance of heavy flooding due to the melting snow.

“We might see some ponding of water if the area has poor or clogged drains,” Richter said. “The temperatures won’t warm up fast enough or long enough to cause flooding issues.”

Weather service hydrologist Danny Costello agrees.

“It’s going into the 30s today and then into the 40s later this evening, but it’s not going to melt a lot of snow; mostly it will just shrink it,” Costello said. “It will get sloppy out there. We may see puddles of water where it can’t get down the drain. Once the cold air returns, the water will just turn into ice.”

Meanwhile, state road crews, the governor’s office said, are clearing drainage structures on state roads to prevent or minimize flooding; the departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality are working with the U.S. Coast Guard to help deal with any possible flooding.

“State authorities are monitoring situations across Michigan, are working closely with local and federal partners, and are reaching out with helpful information designed to protect our citizens and their property,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in a press conference on Wednesday.

The governor’s office has encouraged residents to monitor local news and weather reports, heed advisories and avoid driving through standing water.

“A lot of this is about being smart,” Snyder said.

MDOT is clearing roads it oversees including Woodward, Grand River, Gratiot and Fort Street, while the city’s workers clear drains on Detroit’s other main streets.

Snowfall wasn’t the only contributor to flooding streets this winter. Hundreds of water main breaks left expressways and residential streets under water, and many times frozen over.

In January alone, there were 312 reported incidents, according to the water department. Detroit Water and Sewerage Department handles more than a dozen calls daily for water main incidents.

Jennifer Chambers contributed
tgreenwood@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2345

A bus passes flooding near Buena Vista and Dexter in Detroit on Thursday. (David Coates / The Detroit News)