The Rapidian

West Michigan winters I have known

Remembering winters in Grand Rapids and the challenges they posed.

Winter seems to have gotten the jump on us this year with that arctic blast we got even before Thanksgiving. Michigan - always keeping it interesting!

Last year we had a dry, rather balmy beginning to winter, until someone upstairs finally, in mid-January, realized it hadn't started up yet, and kicked it in gear. I remember worrying that we wouldn't have enough freezes and my summer garden would be plagued by pests. That didn't happen, of course. Instead we got the Great Deluge of 2013, record rain and flooding, and a bumper apple crop after the total loss of 2012. You never know what you're going to get.

Sometimes the snow all comes at once, like in December of 2000 when Grand Rapids got 59.2 inches of it in just a few weeks. I remember driving home slowly, white knuckled, day after day, only to arrive there and not be able to get up my driveway because eight fun new inches of snow had fallen. So I'd get out the shovel and dig it out. Again. That year we got a snowblower for Christmas - thank God! - and didn't use it that winter because all of the precipitation had already come. The ice dams on my house were something fierce in 2000. I didn't have a roof rake yet, and the snow fell so fast and melted and froze so quickly that the awning above my front door collapsed under its weight and decapitated the stone goose on my front step when it came down.

From this, I learned several winter lessons:

  • If you have a roof that leaks heat - and our Cape Cod does even with additional insulation blown in - get a roof rake and use it every time you get significant accumulation.
  • Do not let ice build up on your roof or in your gutters. I've been on a ladder in January with a hammer and a crowbar chipping away at eight inches of solid ice. It's not fun, and it's not safe. But having a steady stream of water coming off an ice dam and through your bathroom ceiling is bad too. Unexpected water from non-plumbing sources is generally bad, and leads to expensive repairs, and even black mold. It's better to take preventative measures for stopping water.
  • Clear your gutters now before they freeze. It's easy for ice dams to get outsized quickly when gutters are full of leaf and other debris to begin with. Ice dams will pull your gutters out of shape or even off the house.
  • Have your snowblower ready at the beginning of winter. If you're not sure of the condition of your snowblower, check it now. I took mine in several weeks ago for a tune up and to have its frayed cord replaced. Place your snow shovels where they are easily accessible now, and stock up on salt or kitty litter to put on paths or driveways.

Of course, some winters will not be troublesome, and some Christmases are green. The Christmas of 1984, it was 65 degrees! We stood outside and marveled that this could be winter, and we were honestly sorry not to see that white stuff that year. White Christmases are the best. Even people who hate snow love it on Christmas.

We had more snow than we knew what to do with during the Blizzard of 1978. I was 7, and my birthday is in January. We were supposed to go to the circus. But my dad opened up our garage door, and the snow was taller than my head. I could have burrowed into it like a mole! So much snow! Fortunately, we didn't have to be anywhere and could stay home until they got the roads cleared. When I was little the winters seemed much snowier, the snowbanks taller than we were. Of course, I was much smaller then. We've had a number of snowy winters lately, though, and if you look at the snow accumulation records, the trend is actually upward slightly, towards more snow.

Do you have any favorite memories of winter in West Michigan? Have you got your mittens, caps, snow boots and snowpants ready to go?

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.