Cold snap sends Metro Detroiters indoors for fun

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Mandy Sanderson has seen her share of freezing weather over the years but not like the teeth-clenching cold and skin-numbing winds gripping Metro Detroit this week.

Emma O’Neill, in the driver’s seat of a combine, is surrounded by her brothers, Conner, 2; Matthew, 5; and Joseph, 9. They’re from Shelby Township and were exploring The Henry Ford Museum on Thursday.

Sanderson, 55, visting from London to spend time with her daughter and two grandkids who live in the region, wanted to see some sights. So she ventured with her family to The Henry Ford Museum, where officials took advantage of Mother Nature's chilly days this week by offering buy-one-get-one-free passes.

From movie theaters to bowling alleys and museums, the biting cold and brisk wind chill have driven people deep inside to cope. While indoor entertainment venues have reported spikes in attendance from people like Sanderson, the cold forced the shutdown of some area ski resorts for the first time in years.

"It's really, really, really cold," Sanderson said. "It was to come somewhere warm with two small children and to get out the house and get out of the cold."

The temperatures across the region Friday were downright scary: minus 9 in Port Huron; minus 9 in Pontiac; minus 12 in Flint and White Lake Township; minus 17 in Gaylord; minus 18 in Newberry; minus 21 in Marquette; and a knee-knocking minus 26 in Pellston. The minus 13 reading at Detroit Metro Airport broke the record low of minus 8 for Feb. 20, set in 1934.

But a warmup is coming Saturday, forecasters say, pushing temperatures into the high 20s and bringing a possible 2-4 inches of snow. Temperatures will reach 20 Sunday, followed by another plunge below zero that night.

A man really braves the elements on Friday on Wayne State University’s campus, but many indoor sites reported large crowds of warmth seekers.

Including some on winter break, most local school systems shut down Thursday and Friday, pushing kids into places like The Henry Ford's museum and IMAX Theater, which reported well over 2,500 people on those two days.

But there was too much cold for some of the area's ski resorts.

Gail Crocker, the manager of Alpine Valley Ski resort in White Lake Township, has worked there for 40 years and said she can't remember the last time her facility closed for the cold, as it did on Thursday. Alpine Valley opened at 3 p.m. on Friday, she said.

"Nobody would come out in this bitter, bitter, bitter cold," Crocker said. "Adults can dress for it and bundle up, but it's tougher for children and young adults. We want to be safe and we want everyone else to be safe."

The relative heat wave coming Saturday means "we're back on track" to perfect skiing weather, she said.

Bowling alleys like Regal Lanes, on Mound near Interstate 696 in Warren, watched their alleys fill up during the cold snap.

Paul Straetmans, the owner of Regal Lanes for 34 years, said he saw a spike in business on Thursday and Friday by schoolkids looking to escape the confines of home, with 10 more lanes used by 30 more students.

"This is the time when things are so cold, and you can't do anything outside," Straetmans said. "This time of the year, people have the winter blahs."

Movie theaters, too, saw bigger crowds the past few days, too, said Paul Glantz, the CEO of Emagine Entertainment, which has eight theaters in the region. Business, he said, was up 30 percent from the prior year on the same days.

"It's been great for our business. You wouldn't expect it to be so, but folks develop cabin fever. They want out," Glantz said. "And when kids aren't in school, that's when our business does the best."

Some like Sahira Kazanjian, 54, of Ann Arbor, just wanted an educational experience for her three children, so that's why they ventured to the Ford museum to take in the likes of the Heroes of the Sky exhibit.

Kazanjian said they were originally were supposed to be in Boston for the winter break but even worse weather out East kept them in Michigan. Her 8-year-old twin daughters, Louisa and Sarine, were bundled up in their winter hats and coats, prepared to go back into the cold.

"We have been bowling, we have been to museums, we've watched a lot of movies," she said. "We've gone sledding. We want to be in a place where we're comfortable and it doesn't hurt to be and our fingers still work."

Extended forecast

Saturday: There is a 100 percent chance of snow with accumulations of 2-4 inches possible. High 28.

Saturday night: There is a 60 percent chance of snow until around midnight. Low 18.

Sunday: Flurries likely. High 20.

Sunday night: Mostly clear with low of -9.

Monday: Partly cloudy with high of 11.

Monday night: Clear with a low of 2.

Source: National Weather Service