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Thursday, January 2,2014

Fast frozen

‘Gemini’ not too different from past damaging ice storms

by ALLAN I. ROSS
For the better part of a week, Winter Storm Gemini made mid-Michigan look like a set piece in the hit Disney film “Frozen,” leaving between onefourth of an inch and three-fourths of an inch of heavy ice crust across the landscape. It also snapped the limbs off trees and knocked the power out of approximately 40,000 Lansing Board of Water and Light customers and 620,000 other utility customers statewide. Full damage totals won’t be known for a while yet, but what is known is that this isn’t the most severe ice storm to hit Lansing — and you only have to look back 10 years for something comparable.

“Typically, ice storms melt off within one day, but cold temperatures made (the effects) of this storm a lot more significant,” said Brandon Hoving, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “It stuck around awhile.”

Hoving said last month’s storm is on par with two other storms that caused widespread damage in the Lansing area: one that happened in 1985, another in 2003.

In April 2003, Hoving said there were reports of up to 1 inch of ice accumulation that knocked out 450,000 customers statewide, including 50,000 in mid- Michigan who lost power for a full week.

“There were high winds and thunderstorms accompanying that one,” Hoving said. “It was a very messy situation. It was comparable to what we’re experiencing now.”

Well, except for the deep freeze that set in afterward, which made this storm so much more dangerous. Hoving said five local deaths have been attributed to Gemini. The last time a true winter ice storm happened was Jan. 1, 1985, which also created a layer of ice up to 1 inch thick throughout southern and mid-Michigan. Hoving said that storm caused three deaths, eight injuries and left 430,000 without power.

“Some were out up to 10 days,” Hoving said. “The total damage was $50 million.”

Looking back a little further, on March 3, 1976, a major ice storm ravaged the Midwest, with Wisconsin and Michigan being the heaviest hit. Hoving said it left more than an inch of ice accumulation.

“That was extreme,” he said, adding that over 500,000 were left without power, some for days. He said 16 people were killed and several counties were declared disaster areas.

Part of the reason ice storms are so dangerous is because they’re so rare. Hoving said you need very specific conditions and temperatures to achieve the damaging effects caused by a storm like Gemini.

“There’s a very fine line between rain, snow and freezing rain,” Hoving said. “It’s not uncommon for freezing rain to glaze things up, but to get a quarter inch to three-quarters of an inch is quite rare. We don’t get many ice storms, but when we do, they do a lot of damage.”

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