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Blowing snow disrupts roads, 14K without power Friday as storm hits

Pedestrians battle the cold and wind chills as they make their way through downtown at the start of the snow blizzard, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

 A severe storm with strong winds and arctic cold hit Michigan on Friday, leaving more than 14,000 without power, though snow accumulation was less than originally forecast.

From the Ohio border into the metro suburbs, expect increasing wind speeds and another 1 to 2 inches of snow, says Kyle Klein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township. That could brings totals up to 3 inches through Saturday as western lake effect could continue snow overnight into Saturday, Christmas Eve. Areas north of Flint could see another 2 to 3 inches.

“It’s a couple or two (inches) below the initial forecast for the metro,” Klein said late Friday morning. “Going forward, today, it’s particularly the wind that will be problematic in the afternoon.”

Blowing snow swirled across roadways and yards Friday, making it difficult for road crews to keep streets clear, according to the Road Commission for Oakland County.

“Everything is covering back over almost immediately due to wind,” spokesman Craig Bryson said.

The Michigan Transportation Department reported multiple accidents as the storm took hold Friday. A jackknifed semi resulted in a crash at 9:15 a.m. blocking all lanes of westbound Interstate 96 at Telegraph Road, spokeswoman Diane Cross said. Vehicles were backed up for 1 mile, and a fuel leak meant it would take longer to clear the expressway because of the cleanup.

The weather service said widespread blowing snow could “significantly” reduce visibilities to less than a half mile at times. Drivers are encouraged to check road conditions before they leave and have supplies on hand in case of an emergency. The agency also warned that cold wind chills as low as 25 below zero could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

Diane Lang, 57, of Warren, walked to the 7-Eleven store on Schoenherr and Nine Mile Friday morning to pick up some essentials.

“It’s horrible,” she said as the wind and snow whipped around her. Dressed in a long winter coat, hat and gloves, she made her way along Schoenherr after shopping. “I’m going home to get out of this snow and cold.”

A winter storm warning remains in effect until 4 a.m. Saturday with additional snow accumulation up to 2 inches in Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Lapeer, Shiawassee and Genesee counties. An additional inch was expected in Wayne, Lenawee, Monroe and Washtenaw counties. Wind gusts could reach 55 miles per hour and temperatures will plummet to single digits.

Areas along the lakeshore on the state’s western side were in near-blizzard conditions, NWS’s Klein said. Some of those places already had received 4 to 6 inches. Parts of the Upper Peninsula and northern lower Michigan could see as much as 18 to 24 inches.

The number of power outages, meanwhile, were increasing in the afternoon. More than 14,400 customers were without power ― 8,600 for DTE Energy Co. in southeast Michigan and the Thumb and 5,800 for Consumers Energy in western and central Michigan. DTE had 10,000 employees working to get power on safely as quick as possible, and Consumers had hundreds of crew and line workers deployed.

“It’s tricky,” Consumers spokesman Brian Wheeler said. “You really can’t do as much repair work until the winds die down.”

The combination of the tilt of a deepened trough out of the Rocky Mountains and faster streaks in the jet stream created favorable conditions for the quick development of the low pressure system being known as winter storm Elliott, Klein said. It’s expected to develop into what meteorologists call a “bomb cyclone,” which is when air pressure drops significantly (24 millibars) within 24 hours.

The result was Friday morning, more than 200 million people — around 60% of the country — were under some form of winter weather warning or advisory in 20 states, according to the weather service. Some 6,000 flights had been grounded and hundreds of thousands were left without power.

As temperatures in some parts of the country plunged 30 degrees overnight, decreasing temperatures also were a concern in Michigan, said Bryson with the road commission in Oakland.

“We have a good layer of salt down, but it is becoming less effective as the temps drop,” he said. “This creates the danger of re-freeze, which is made worse by the wind. If we do get refreeze/flash freeze, there isn’t a lot we can do about it right now because of the temps. We’re still salting at the moment, but it’s a case of diminishing returns.”

Rain prior to the snowfall also resulted in some hesitancy to lay down salt too early for fear it just would be washed away, MDOT’s Cross said. But teams at the Detroit garage were out early Friday to take care of state avenues like Gratiot, Michigan and Woodward.

The storm has upended holiday travel plans for thousands across not just Michigan but the country. Detroit Metro Airport had 324 cancellations and 164 delays on Friday, according to FlightAware, after dozens of cancelations the day prior.

Concerns about delayed travels had prompted some visitors to leave early. Emily Ravin, 28, and Cameron Marchese, 27, were visiting family in downtown Detroit for the holidays. The former Detroiters now live in Chicago and made the four hour drive back on Wednesday, a few days earlier than they had planned.

“I think we’re just going to stay inside and hole up and not really leave,” Ravin said. “The wind is definitely a problem when trying to walk around or go and get coffee or lunch… Just having to plan ahead, so you don’t have to leave again.”

Many schools and cultural institutions shut down. The Detroit Institute of Arts announced early Friday morning that it would be closed due to inclement weather after the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak and Belle Isle Nature Center in east Detroit had said the same.

Major businesses also were facing impacts. Although no assembly plants were down, General Motors Co. had canceled production for the day at its Grand Rapids Component Operations and Tonawanda Engine Plant in New York. It also canceled the first shift at the Marion Metal Center in Indiana. Meanwhile, production as of Friday morning was running at the plants of Stellantis NV, the maker of Jeep and Ram vehicles, ahead of the Christmas shutdown.

The storm also may affect the delivery of last-minute arriving packages. UPS Inc. spokesman Michael Scott said in a statement the storm may cause drivers to delay making deliveries in some parts of the state: “We are working hard to meet our commitments to deliver in areas where we can.”

The U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Elizabeth Najduch said letter carriers are delivering packages and mail when they feel it is safe to do so, though the agency is complying with mandatory evacuation and road closures. The agency also reminds residents to ensure clear access to mailboxes and their doorstep.

SMART bus service canceled three routes Friday in Detroit because of the warnings. Shortly after 11 a.m., the Detroit People Mover also quit service for the rest of the day. Other methods of transportation were becoming costly — Stephanie Williams, 24, who lives on the east side of Detroit, said grabbing a ride on the Lyft Inc. ride-hailing service she typically uses to get around the city had doubled in price by the time she got off her night shift at the 1 Campus Martius building downtown.

“I definitely went to the grocery store yesterday to get my groceries out the way,” she said. “I was seeing the weather coming, so I went and got me some thermals for extra layers of clothes.”

A number of communities, including Hazel Park and Auburn Hills, declared snow emergencies that prohibited cars from being parked on local streets for snow removal.

Although some residents said they hope the snow sticks around for a white Christmas not everyone was eager about the prospect: “No!” Lang at the 7-Eleven said emphatically. “I was fine with just how it was.”

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(c)2022 The Detroit News

Charles E. RamirezDistributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.