December is the month when winter typically kicks into high gear for West Michigan. The Winter Solstice is on Dec. 21, at 11:48 p.m. This is when we have the least amount of potential daylight; only 9 hours of sunshine are possible. I say “potential” because December is our cloudiest month with only 20 percent of possible sunshine.
The temperatures continue to fall with an average high of 40 degrees on the first and only 32 degrees by the end of the month. The low temperatures take a similar slide going from 28 degrees down to 20 degrees.
December is the snowiest month with an average of 21.9 inches. In the last decade Grand Rapids has seen some very snowy Decembers. Four of the top five snowiest are in the last few years. The snowiest on record was back in 2000 with 59.2 inches. Here are the others that round out the top seven: 54.6 inches in 2008, 53.9 inches in 2001, 51.3 inches in 1951, 35.4 inches in 2009, 34.8 inches in 1983 and 34.7 inches in 2013.
The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) expects overall warm and dry conditions for the region during December and the entire winter season. See the attached slideshow for more December statistics.
There are some interesting weather events for December. I’ll just highlight a few of them from the National Weather Service archives.
Dec. 5, 2001, this was one of the warmest December days on record in Lower Michigan. Grand Rapids and Lansing set record highs of 69 degrees. Holland and Flint both hit 70 degrees.
Dec. 11, 1995, a spell of frigid weather continued on this day. The high temperature was only 10 degrees at Grand Rapids and 11 degrees at Muskegon.
Dec. 17, 1963, lake effect snow buried Muskegon with a three day total of 34 inches of snow from the Dec. 16 to Dec. 18. This will be the snowiest December in Muskegon history with a grand total of 82.6 inches for the month.
Dec. 18, 1884, temperatures plunged well below zero during a three day cold wave. Lansing records an all time December low of 25 degrees below zero.
Dec. 19, 1983, a massive area of arctic high pressure dominated the weather across much of North America during an historic cold wave. Grand Rapids fell to 18 degrees below zero, setting their all-time December record low.
Dec. 19, 2008, a record 10.2 inches of snow fell at Grand Rapids during one of the snowiest months on record in southwest Lower Michigan. Some of the impressive monthly snow totals were 88.7 inches at Hart in Oceana County, 68.6 inches at Muskegon and 54.6 inches at Grand Rapids. 2008 is also the snowiest calendar year on record at Hart, with over 200 inches and at Grand Rapids with 140.7 inches for the year.
Dec. 21, 1989, was one of the coldest December days in history across Lower Michigan. The high temperature at Muskegon and Grand Rapids was only 5 above zero, the lowest maximum temperature ever recorded in the month of December at both sites.
Dec. 22, 2000, a long siege of arctic air and lake effect snow continued across Lower Michigan. The high temperature at Lansing was only 9 degrees with lake effect snow showers swirling. It will be the coldest December of the twentieth century at Lansing.
Dec. 24, 1993, a Christmas Eve snowstorm dropped from three to eight inches of snow across Lower Michigan. This ushered in several weeks of severe winter weather.
Dec. 25, 1982, southerly winds pushed temperatures into the 60s during the warmest Christmas on record for Lower Michigan. The unusual warmth was punctuated by scattered thunderstorms.
Dec. 25, 1983, only one year after the warmest Christmas on record, southwest Lower Michigan set record lows. Temperatures plunged below zero as a long siege of arctic air dominated the last half of the month.
Dec. 29, 1984, temperatures reached record highs for the second day in a row at Grand Rapids and Lansing. Amazingly, the record high of 65 degrees at Grand Rapids was set just after midnight. A cold front moved through in the morning and temperatures fell into the 30s during the afternoon.