Say goodbye to season's first big snowstorm

James David Dickson, Charles E. Ramirez and Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

The winter snow storm that closed much of Metro Detroit for business Thursday is history, according to the National Weather Service.

“There’s some gusty winds kind of blowing some snow around,” said Deb Elliott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township. “Those should let up after sunset.”

The worst of this week’s storm was seen on Wednesday, said Mike Richter, a meteorologist with the weather service. The winter storm warning, which expired at 11 a.m., was issued due to high accumulation totals in some communities, he explained.

Those are triggered when snow fall is in the 6 to 10 inches range, which is what happened in “areas north and west” of Detroit. Wixom received 12 inches of snow, while Rochester received 9.4. Clarkston got 11; Howell, 10. Areas south such as Farmington Hills and Livonia received6 inches each of snow, along with sleet and rain. Waterford Township measured in at 8.8 inches.In Genesee County, Flint received 9.9 inches of snow. In Wayne County, where only a winter storm advisory was issued, snow totals averaged 4 inches.

Earlier Thursday, Tiffani Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Department of Public Services, said snow removal crews had been out and would continue to salt county roads.

“Everything is looking pretty good,” she said. “We’re still out salting and because the temperatures are warm, that’s working in our favor.”

Wayne County maintains over 4,450 lane miles of primary roadway during snow and ice season. The public services’ Roads Division has 160 salt trucks and plows and each is equipped with GPS technology. Eighteen trucks also have real time video dashboard cameras for the public to see on Wayne County’s web-based road monitoring application, “Compass.”

Leo Ciavatta, maintenance superintendent for the Macomb County Department of Roads, said his crews had the roads under control Thursday morning.

"Things aren't bad and we're in pretty good shape," he said. "We have some issue with the wind blowing right now, but most of the roads are 90 percent open. We have some cleaning up to do on the right turn lanes and some potholes are starting to sprout, but other than that we're in pretty good shape."

By 8 a.m. Thursday, the snow storm only left a couple of inches of the white stuff on the ground at the border of Eastpointe and Roseville in southern Macomb County. The main roads had been salted and traffic flowed smoothly through the remaining slush. Side streets were slippery and required a little more effort to navigate.

Steven Ross, a 50-year Eastpointe resident, said his neighborhood didn’t get as much snow as the media reported to expect.

It’s one of the reasons he decided to use a shovel to clean up around the driveway of his home on Tuscany street near 10 Mile and Gratiot Avenue instead of his snow thrower. “I like to get a little exercise,” he said. “And I figured I’d better stay on top of it.”

Ross said this winter has been generously mild.

“But I’m ready for spring,” he said. “I thought we were done with winter. We didn’t have that much of one, so I thought we’d get away with a light one.”

As expected, hundreds of schools shutdown, many of them even calling off afternoon and evening activities Thursday as Oakland County continued to dig out from up to 10 inches of snowfall reported in some areas.

Dozens of parochial and private schools closed as well as entire school districts like Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Brandon Township, Clarkston, Clawson, Farmington, Pontiac, Royal Oak , Southfield, Troy, Walled Lake and Waterford. In Wayne County, Detroit and Dearborn are among the districts not holding school.

Motorists who were able to navigate mainly snow-covered county roads found it slow-going.

"The northern and western parts of the county got hit harder, so there is just more snow on the roads there," said Craig Bryson, spokesperson for the Road Commission of Oakland County whose crews were still out in force at 7:30 a.m.

"The snow still falling is certainly slowing the cleanup process for the time being," Bryson said. "We have brought in private contractors to help out on the back roads. They came in around 2 a.m. and continue to work.

"We continue to have all available equipment out  — 106 salt trucks/snowplows —  as well as some pickup trucks with plows and graders on the back roads as well," said Bryson. "We also used the graders on the freeway ramps on the north end of I-75 to bust them open."

According to Oakland County Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Howden of the county's Emergency Response and Preparedness Operations, there were a total of 326 weather-related calls for service between 8 a.m. Wednesday through 8 a.m. Thursday in the 15 communities patrolled by the sheriff's office.

Among them: 124 property damage accidents; 15 personal injury accidents which included 4 roll-over accidents; 94 road runoffs; 29 road hazards; and 64 assist stranded motorists.

The number of accidents prompted Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard to remind motorists to adopt winter safe driving practices. Among them:
--Clear off the snow and ice before driving.
--Accelerate slowly to reduce wheel spin.
--Reduce your speed and drive smoothly.
--Allow longer braking distances.
--Don't lock your wheels when braking..
--Perform one action at a time when accelerating, braking or turning.
--Avoid sudden actions when cornering.
--Be ready to correct for a slide.
--Don't let four or all-wheel drive give you a false sense of security.
--Be extra wary of other motorists.
--Have on hand: flashlight; jumper cables; shovel; snow brush and ice scraper; warning devices (like flares); blankets. 
--For long trips, add food and water, medication  and cell phone.
For more information on safe winter driving visit

Grand Rapids was hit with a historic snowfall Wednesday, 7.3 inches, beating the old record of 6.8 set in 1990. Dearborn, on the other hand, was largely spared from the snow, seeing an accumulation of 1.6 inches.

Wednesday’s weather inspired a number of preemptive school closures on Thursday, including the state’s biggest district, Detroit Public Schools, and led communities from Flint to Royal Oak to declare snow emergencies. All state offices were closed Wednesday afternoon, while several school districts let students go home early, in the belief that roads would only get worse as the afternoon went on. There were also about 40,000 power outages in the Thumb area.

By the time the winter storm warning expires, another inch or so of snow accumulation is possible in most parts of Metro Detroit. Up to 2 more inches is possible in the Thumb. After 11 a.m., the storm system will “exit to the east,” Richter said.

Those low snowfall totals didn't stop local communities from declaring snow emergencies on Thursday, though. In Livonia, all vehicles must be removed from the roads by 1 a.m. Ferndale has made a similar request, though without a specific timetable, and on the understanding that residents can park their cars on the roads again once the snow is plowed.

Several other Oakland County communities — such as Auburn Hills and Berkley — also declared snow emergencies, advising residents that until further notice parking was prohibited on all city streets and that police would issue violations  and vehicles would be towed as necessary. Motorists generally were urged to avoid unnecessary travel.  ​

"The storm dumped a lot of snow in the area but all county buildings remain open for business, " said William Mullan, spokesperson for Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

"It is the county executive's position that in times like this, residents often need their county services more than ever. We have never shut down county offices while he has been executive."

Patterson, 77, in his sixth term, was elected to the county's top post in 1992.

The National Weather Service issued a special weather statement that applies to Oakland and Macomb counties, among others, on Thursday. In it, the NWS warns of “snow-covered and slippery roads, particularly on bridges, exit ramps and overpasses,” and urged motorists to use caution and allow extra time to reach their destinations.

Thursday’s high temp will be about 34 degrees. This afternoon, wind speeds will reach 25-30 miles per hour. As the storm departs, the day will become cloudy, and lows will be in the lower 20s.

Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed. 

The forecast, through the weekend

Thursday: Snow, mainly before 1 p.m., then a chance of snow showers after 1 p.m. High near 32. Breezy, with a north northwest wind 18 to 20 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90 percent. Total daytime snow accumulation of around an inch possible.

Thursday night: Scattered flurries after 9 p.m. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 14. Blustery, with a northwest wind 13 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 26 mph.

Friday: Scattered flurries before 1 p.m. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 28. Northwest wind 8 to 10 mph.

Friday night: Cloudy, then gradually becoming partly cloudy, with a low around 18. Southwest wind 5 to 9 mph.

Saturday: Partly sunny, with a high near 41. Southwest wind 9 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph.

Saturday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 32.

Sunday: A chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 47. Chance of precipitation is 30 percent.

Sunday night: Snow showers likely. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 29. Breezy.

Source: National Weather Service