Spring Surprises: Easter Blizzards

An ice and snow covered car and canoe, circa 1953.

Despite the fact that the weather can’t seem to make up its mind about winter ending, spring arrived on the vernal equinox, March 20, and Easter is this Sunday, April 1. As a bit of trivia, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after the vernal equinox, which means that Easter falls in the time of year when the weather is changing and is always unpredictable. Over the years Easter weather in Marquette has been hot, cold or changeable, with the accent on cool. Here are a couple of illustrations taken from various issues of the Mining Journal.

In 1892, Easter was later in the spring, with Good Friday falling on April 15. That year the mild, dry weather upset the merchants, who tried to get the city to bring out the street sprinkler early because so much dust was blowing into their stores. A concert at the brand new Opera House was scheduled for Easter afternoon, sponsored by the YMCA. There was a chorus of 30 voices, the conductor was George E. Burtis and Rev. F. L. Pillsbury of the Methodist Church was to deliver a sermon. The weather had been so mild that the janitor had forgotten to build a fire. When the weather suddenly changed it was reported that the audience, all bundled up, politely stuck it out and listened to those performing, equally bundled up.

A few years later in 1897, Easter fell on April 18. It was reported “Sunday was one of the most peculiar Easters climatically speaking, that Marquette ever has experienced, and gave all of us a fuller idea of the depth of total depravity to which Upper Peninsula weather can sink. The day opened warm and partly cloudy, with just a suggestion of summer, and a warm south wind picked up to a velocity of 52 miles an hour, which carried the ice floes almost out of sight in a short time.

“Many people seemed to think it had gone out for the season and the opening of navigation was close at hand. Then in the afternoon there were two hard showers and between 5:30 and 7:00, the temperature dropped from 60 to 25 degrees, as the wind suddenly shifted and blew a gale from the north. This also brought with it a blizzard of snow from which the wearers of new Easter clothes sought protection under ulsters [men’s long coats] and heavy wraps, and the temperature continued to fall somewhat during the evening.”

1928 saw another Easter blizzard, which according to the assertions of old residents at the time, was unprecedented in Marquette. The unseasonable storm began on the morning of Good Friday, April 6, with a heavy fall of wet snow and a drop in temperature Friday night that left the streets and sidewalks covered with a thick coat of ice. But that wasn’t all, as Saturday brought a real blizzard which howled all night and Sunday morning. Those who had hoped to promenade in their new Easter clothes looked out on snowdrifts that were waist high.

The city’s street crews immediately got out their equipment, which had already been stored for the season and got to work. About 18 inches of snow fell and all traffic was practically impossible after 9:00 on Saturday night. The storm hit the entire county and the inter-city bus lines were tied up as well, although the railroads continued to operate. Kenneth I. Sawyer, who was the county road superintendent, reported that two truck plows and four tractor driven units had opened the Marquette-Negaunee highway by Sunday night but that it might take until Monday afternoon or evening to clear the stretches between Marquette and Green Garden and also to Big Bay.

The street cars in Marquette were forced to quit for at least a day because two or more inches of ice had to be scraped off the rails by hand with picks before the sweeper plow could be used. The Arch-Spruce-Hewitt Avenue loop cars weren’t expected to be back in operation until sometime Monday.

There were any number of anecdotes about church goers attempting to battle their way to church, many of them being forced to turn back. However, some make it using snowshoes, including Reverend Herbert Bryce, the Presbyterian minister who used his to clamber successfully over the drifts from the rectory on East Michigan Street to the church.

In Ishpeming, the wind on Saturday night must have been even stronger than in Marquette, as it blew part of the metal roof off the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company’s engine house, narrowly missing three automobiles. Also damaged were the Swift and Company’s roof and one of the largest plate glass windows in the H. W. Gossard Company’s factory blew in. Despite the storm and drifts reported up to six feet high, life went on. The Negaunee Fire Department held their annual Easter Monday ball at the high school gym which was preceded by a short parade through downtown Negaunee.

We don’t know what the weather has in store for us this year, although the current forecast for Easter is cloudy with a high temperature just below freezing. Maybe the best we can hope for is that history doesn’t repeat itself and we don’t get a surprise Easter blizzard for the record books.