Storm leaves outages; some schools, state offices shut

Holly Fournier, Mark Hicks, and Candice Williams

The storm expected to bring Metro Detroit’s heaviest snowfall of the season was still inching across the region Wednesday night — dumping rain and ice pellets in some spots, flurries in others, leaving roads slick and hazardous and causing nearly 40,000 power outages, mainly in and around the Thumb.

The steady snow caused Thursday closures of some school districts and state offices in counties where a winter storm warning has been issued, including some Secretary of State offices in the region.

Radar late Wednesday showed a large swath of communities from Monroe and Wayne counties to near Port Huron was still seeing rain by 9:30 p.m. as temperatures hovered above freezing, said Dave Kook, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. But that “should be transitioning to all snow pretty quickly,” he said — likely before midnight.

A winter weather advisory remains in effect for much of the region, including Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston, Oakland and Macomb counties, through 11 a.m. Thursday.

The weather service forecasts additional snow accumulations through the morning ranging from 1-4 inches, bringing storm totals of 8-13 inches. Winds gusting up to 35 mph were expected near Lake Huron.

A winter storm warning for Washtenaw and Lenawee counties was downgraded to an advisory Wednesday evening “after a lull in the precipitation,” the weather service said. A second round of snow was expected to move in late Wednesday through Thursday morning, bringing an additional 1-3 inches.

The only comparable snowfall in the region this season occurred Nov. 21, a month before winter’s official start, when accumulations of 12-16 inches were reported in parts of Oakland and Livingston counties.

The storm, which changed from snow to rain to snow again, was expected to taper off by late Thursday morning, the weather service said. A mix of freezing rain and sleet was predicted for some areas closer to Wayne and Monroe counties. Roads were expected to become slick and hazardous as temperatures fall below freezing early Thursday.

Commuters in much of Metro Detroit slogged through streets filled with water from heavy rain that fell for much of Wednesday.

By Wednesday night, some parts of lower Michigan had already been socked by Old Man Winter.

Heaviest hit areas, and their amounts, included Leonard village in Oakland County, 9 inches; Clarkston, 9 inches; Milford, 7.9 inches; Howell, 7.5 inches; northwest Saginaw, 7.5 inches; and White Lake Township, 6.5 inches.

The Michigan Department of Transportation reported a handful of vehicle crashes on interstates 75, 94, 96 and 275 throughout the evening.

By rush hour, AAA Michigan had fielded a 19 percent increase compared to the week before in calls for service for issues such as tire or battery problems, public affairs director Susan Hiltz said. “Our customer service team is really bracing for tomorrow. It’s all hands on deck.”

The conditions caused other problems in southeast Michigan. DTE Energy reported an estimated 12,000 outages — mainly in the Thumb region, spokesman Guy Cerullo said. “We always have crews available but a majority of that work will likely start in the morning.”

Consumers Energy had about 27,000 outages statewide; the hardest-hit places were Genesee and surrounding counties, spokeswoman Debra Dodd said.

Meanwhile, state facilities in counties with a winter storm warning were expected to remain closed on Thursday, officials said. "All nonessential state employees whose work location is located in these counties should not report to work to allow emergency crews to clear the roads," the statement read. "Certain offices will remain open for critical functions only.  State employees with questions about whether their work functions are deemed critical should contact their supervisor. Employees should report to their next regularly scheduled shift after 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25."

Secretary of State offices in the 51 Lower Peninsula counties where the National Weather Service declared a winter storm warning also will remain closed Thursday, officials announced.

Others canceled classes for Thursday, including the Dearborn, L'Anse Creuse and Bloomfield Hills districts, according to their websites.

The cancellations followed district closures Wednesday in some communities that had issued snow emergencies. Dozens of schools closed early or canceled evening activities including Lake Orion, Novi, Royal Oak, Troy and Waterford.

Dozens of flights were delayed or canceled at Detroit Metro Airport, according to

In west Michigan, the winds were so strong, they caused the Saginaw River to swell and appear to flow backward, the Bay City Times reported.

The winter weather warnings from the National Weather Service stretched southwest through all of Illinois and into Missouri.

Blizzard warnings were posted for counties in eastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana.

Once the snow departs, it may possibly return Sunday, said the weather service.

But Sunday was still too far away for forecasters to say just how heavy the snow will be.

Between the two snowfalls, the weather will be chilly Thursday night and Friday, which will have a high of 28 and low of 17.

Saturday will be warmer with a high near 39 and low of 30.

Officials cautioned motorists to continue being careful during the first major snow of 2016.

“People should slow down and be prepared for reduced visibility and slick road conditions,” said meteorologist Deb Elliott with the weather service in White Lake Township.

The Brandon School District in northern Oakland County and West Bloomfield School District announced no school on Thursday.

Several popular Oakland County restaurants, such as A Matter of Taste on Union Lake, reported near-empty dining rooms during the lunch hour Wednesday.

“We’ve only had a couple customers at lunch today,” said Nisha Farooq, a restaurant employee who wrapped silverware in black cloth napkins while glancing at the snow steadily falling down on the lake outside. “Today we have only had a couple (diners). It is unusual and expect we can blame the weather.”

A snow emergency in Genesee County prompted the closure of Flint City Hall, which will remain closed Thursday, officials said. Fire stations will continue to offer free bottled water, filters and test kits to city residents.

Flint was expected to get 8-12 inches of snow.

Flint’s water resource sites will maintain regular hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., the governor added.

Elsewhere, the winds were so strong, they caused the Saginaw River to swell and appear to flow backward, though it remained well below flood stage, the Bay City Times reported.

The winter weather warnings from the National Weather Service stretched southwest through all of Illinois and into Missouri. Blizzard warnings were posted for counties in eastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana.

Detroit News Staff Writers Mike Martindale and Charles E. Ramirez and the Associated Press contributed.

Winter driving tips

AAA offers these reminders for safe driving in snow, slush and ice from a Winter Driving Refresher Course:

■Drive slower since rain, snow and ice can dramatically reduce tire traction.

■Increase following distances to a 5-6 second minimum.

■Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying gas slowly to accelerate is the best method regaining traction and avoiding skids.

Source: AAA of Michigan