Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 2, 2013

March '12 snowstorm still fresh in locals' minds


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The slightest mention of the March 2012 snow storm that walloped northern Michigan is enough to make those who lived through it cringe.

The storm began late afternoon on March 2 and dropped heavy, cement-like snow for a 12-hour stretch. Some areas received up to three feet, according to some reports, though Leelanau County’s Maple City logged the area’s highest official snow accumulation for March 3 at 21.7 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

If March roared in like a lion last year, this year’s start to the month will be relatively tame, with no significant snow in the forecast.

“It’s going to be much quieter this weekend,” said Tim Locker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gaylord.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning at 5 p.m. last March 2. A 2012 Record-Eagle article reported as many as 200,000 northern Michigan electricity users lost power that evening. Some remained in the dark for up to 10 days, officials said.

The sudden accumulation came as a shock to Greg Ames of Empire.

“I didn’t think it’d come down in the mad rush that it did,” said Ames, who works at Pleva’s Meat Market in Cedar.

Ames lost power for five days and hunkered down at a neighbor’s home with a generator. A fireplace kept his family warm enough, though Ames would’ve opted for more comfort.

“We had been calling on hotel rooms for a couple days and it was nearly impossible to find a hotel room in the area,” he said.

Honor Motel lost power for a day and a half. When it was back up and running, area residents who were desperate for a toasty room and a hot shower filled the motel, owner Chris Theobald said.

”A lot of folks in the area were out of power for five or six days,” she said. “Folks were just happy. They were happy to have found accommodations, and you don’t know how much electricity and heat is needed until you don’t have it.”

The storm some dubbed “snowpocalypse” was enough to convince Theobald to invest in a backup generator to power heat, water and emergency lighting.

The storm weighted fire departments and utilities with downed powerlines and fallen trees. Some emergency medics abandoned their vehicles and attended to people on foot, said Jamel Anderson, Grand Traverse County Central Dispatch director.

Grand Traverse dispatchers fielded a whopping 2,098 calls in a 30-hour period from March 2-3. They normally average 142 calls for that time period, Anderson said.

”It was crazy,” she said. “We’re used to being busy, but normally it’s in spurts. You ride the wave for a little bit but then you regroup. This was for 30 hours and there was no regrouping.”

The epic storm was a catalyst for launching the service’s Facebook page, on which staff frequently post items about crashes, road closures, fires and other public safety incidents.

Four shelters and an additional warming center popped up in Leelanau County. Tom Skowronski, director of emergency management and 911, said authorities made welfare checks on every person on their list of those who need assistance during an emergency.

”We have a lot of elderly people in Leelanau County,” he said. “A lot of them were checked daily.”

After a winter of barely any white stuff, March 3 was a good day for business at Golden Shoes in downtown Traverse City, which received just shy of 7 inches that day, according to the National Weather Service.

Many motels on the east side of town were without power, said owner Jocko Golden.

”And a lot of (people) didn’t bring boots, so we sold a lot of boots that day,” he said. “It was busy.”

He laughed that just a few weeks later, when temperatures soared into the upper 80s, they were “selling sandals like crazy.”