A few days after Christmas, a guy on my Twitter declared: “The new year has started and it’s time to clean out the garage.”
I thought to myself, “That’s odd. It’s just begun.’ Well, it didn’t. It was already the winter of 2018.
The tweet reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a friend of mine who’d moved to Michigan. We were reminiscing about the good ol’ days when a friend asked, “So, what changed? What made you move to Michigan?”
My reply was, “It’s a whole lot of snow. And by snow, I mean snowfall. It rarely stops snowing in Michigan.”
“Ah, yes,” my friend said. “The snow.”
We both chuckled at the reminder of how much snow we got in Michigan. It’s not a laughing matter though. It’s all too common a problem in many parts of the country. And it’s getting worse.
We need to talk about Wayne County, Michigan.
For the past 100 years or so, Wayne County has been known around these parts as the “snowiest county in the Midwest.” It isn’t easy being the snowiest county in the Midwest. The residents of Wayne County have been known to grumble about the cold winters and the blizzards that bring traffic to a halt.
Well, it’s been a while since Wayne County had a good winter. I mean, we’ve had a few bad winters where some snowstorms were absolutely absurd — like the one that paralyzed much of the Detroit metropolitan area or the infamous 1994-95 blizzard. But outside of those specific storms, Wayne County has had a fairly warm winter. Finally, in 2018, it didn’t snow at all. For the first time in a long time, we had a true “snow megar” (a term coined by the locals) winter.
The County Is More Than Just Snow
When you think of Wayne County, Michigan, you probably think of the majestic white stuff that covers the ground during the winter months. But as I mentioned, Wayne County is much more than snow. It’s been a part of the Midwest for nearly a century and it’s home to the second-largest wire mill in the world after Allstate Sugar. Its most recognizable building is the Fox Tower, which you might have seen in the background of some of those “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” episodes. The building is actually the headquarters of the Fox Broadcasting Company.
Wayne County has a rich history. One of its greatest exports was John Wayne. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he was an American actor and film producer who lived most of his life in Michigan. The majority of his films were Westerns, but he also played a few other roles, including a German soldier in “Saving Private Ryan.” In later years, Wayne became more famous for his role as Roarke in the television series “Family”, which aired during the 1980s.
But Wayne County doesn’t just produce famous actors. It also produced a basketball player named Bill Walton. You might know him as the longtime player of the Los Angeles Lakers. He was drafted by the Lakers in the third round of the 1954 NBA draft and played for the team for 11 years. Walton later became one of the main owners and operators of the Los Angeles Pilots, an NBA team that played from 1967 to 1974.
Another big name from Wayne County is Bob Hope. You might know him as the celebrity host of the old “Road to the Stars” television show. Hope grew up in St. Joseph and later moved to Detroit, where he worked as a sportswriter for the Detroit News before joining the Hollywood film industry. It was his involvement in the film industry that led to his hosting of “Road to the Stars.” Hope became famous for his appearances on the show, which featured various celebrities who would compete against each other for a chance to win an all-expense-paid trip to Hollywood. Celebrities would frequently ask Hope for advice about acting and hosting the show, which aired from 1949 to 1954.
Nowadays, many people know Wayne County for its auto industry. It is home to General Motors’ Fisher Body Plant No. 1. The plant manufactured the bodies for Chevy trucks from the 1940s until the 1970s. It also was the birthplace of the modern minivan. In fact, the entire county is considered the “Minivan corridor.” What’s more, the most-watched show on NBC, “The Great British Bake Off,” is hosted by one of its most recognizable residents, Paul Hollywood.
Despite all these accomplishments, in 2018, Wayne County decided it wasn’t going to be The Year of the Snow. It’s not like we’ve never had a “snowless winter” before. There’s always been at least a few days a year when it doesn’t snow. So, basically, it’s been a struggle for Wayne County to get good winter weather ever since the Great War.
Solving The Snow Problem
The lack of winter precipitation in 2018 was a complete anomaly. While some other regions seemed to get a break from the white stuff, Wayne County was getting wetter and wetter. Rivers overflowed their banks and the ground became saturated, leading to major flooding. The snow didn’t simply disappear. It was slowly being devoured by the warm temperatures.
The flooding destroyed many homes and businesses. Local news outlets reported that some areas of the county saw their monthly rainfall double from around five inches to approximately ten inches. It was one of the worst floods Michigan had seen in a century. And it happened during one of the most popular seasons for seasonal flooding. Many people in the area were frustrated that the snowfall was responsible for the flooding. To make matters worse, some of the flooding occurred during high tide when the incoming water reached record levels. The water kept rising, even after the tide turned and the water receded. This was largely because the temperature of the water remained elevated for several days after the flood, which prevented it from quickly returning to its original level (per the natural laws of temperature and evaporation).
This year, during the height of the flooding, the local government declared a state of emergency. The flood waters kept rising and rising until they reached Lake St. Claire, the highest lake in the county (when it comes to its normal volume). The lake’s official name is Robert H. Houghton Lake, but locals usually call it “Houghton Lake.” The emergency also prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to initiate emergency snow surveys across the country. According to the surveys, Michigan was one of the states hardest hit by the flooding.
The Impact Of Climate Change
While the climate is changing around the world, it’s having a greater impact in countries like India and China. And it’s not just the regular fluctuations in temperature that are driving this change. It’s the increased frequency of extreme weather events that is plaguing much of the planet. In 2018, we saw numerous examples of this. We had two major hurricanes, Florence and Michael. The latter was one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the United States. It was also one of the most expensive, causing damages in excess of $25 billion. The previous year had seen a record-breaking hot summer, which saw the average temperature in the U.S. reach 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This was 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the average temperature from 1951 to 2010.
Many scientists blame climate change for this unusually warm year. The increased frequency of extreme weather events is making the world warmer than usual. And it’s not just temperature rising. Droughts, floods, and storms are becoming more frequent. What’s more, the polar ice caps are melting, leading to an increase in the global sea level. All of this is having a profound impact in places like Wayne County, which is more often than not, hit by the unfortunate combination of flooding and snowfall. There are signs that the climate is changing. A study from 2018 found that the average temperature at a certain location in Wayne County had increased by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years.
The Local Resilience
While we’re all reeling from the effects of climate change, it’s important to remember that there are many people and communities working hard to be resilient. This is especially true in Wayne County. The county had suffered greatly during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of the economic hardships brought on by the energy crisis and the subsequent drop in the automobile industry. It had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. But, since the turn of the century, Wayne County has been going through an economic transformation. The county’s unemployment rate is now at a forty-year low and much of the credit goes to a robust economic growth that’s seen the county earn the nickname, “The Saudi Arabia of Northern Michigan.” It now has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the country.