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Snow, cold slams area

Austin Tangney prepares to throw a snowball as he gets hit by one during a friendly fight in Goodrich. Photos by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
January 08, 2014 - The third largest snowfall in recorded history for Flint and frigid temperatures not seen in 20 years wreaked havoc in the area, closing schools, freezing pipes, causing car accidents, and working furnaces and plow drivers overtime, but not necessarily employees who couldn't get out of their driveways.

Brandon and Goodrich Schools were closed through Wednesday, four days after the Jan. 4-5 snowstorm that dumped 17.1 inches of officially recorded snow in Flint and amounts estimated between 12-16 inches in Ortonville and Goodrich.

Temperatures plummeted following the storm's conclusion late Sunday night. The snow and subsequent icy roads caused at least 15 recorded vehicle accidents in Brandon Township, said Oakland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Pete Burkett of the Brandon substation. No serious injuries were reported.

A roll-over accident that occurred on I-75 in Standish on Sunday also resulted in no serious injuries, a miraculous blessing for one Ortonville family. Liz and Ray Waters' two eldest daughters, Nora, 6, and Ella, 4, had gone up north to a cabin in Grayling for the weekend with their grandparents, Patty Scott and Keith Neumann, as well as with their cousin, Ava, 6. At about 4:40 p.m. Sunday, the Suburban they were in hit ice and rolled over twice, landing on the passenger side.

At around 5 p.m., Liz received a call from her mother, who was in the ambulance, which took the unharmed family to a motel after determining there were no serious injuries, just a small cut to Ava's head.

"My initial reaction was to go get them, but the roads were so bad, my van wouldn't make it in that kind of snow," said Liz, who paced for hours and fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning. At about 7:30 a.m. Monday, she heard calls of "Mom! Mom!" in what she initially thought was a dream and was thrilled to find wasn't.

The tow truck driver had returned Keith to Grayling for him to get another vehicle and the family had left the Standish motel at about 4 a.m. as noone could sleep.

Liz flew down the stairs in her pajamas to hug her children.

"They just grabbed on to me, happy as could be, and we haven't left the house since," said Liz on Wednesday and then laughing, adds, "The lesson from this is, don't leave the house when the polar vortex is coming. The kids can't leave the house until they go to college."

Rachel Kulik, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, White Lake, said the storm began in this area around 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4 and did not end until more than 24 hours later, about midnight, Sunday, Jan. 5. The storm was caused by a low pressure system that came from down near Texas, bringing "a lot of moisture and was just in the right area for lots of snow."

That snowfall varied widely from place to place. While NWS White Lake recorded 14.6 inches and Flint got 17.1, the NWS relies on cooperative observers from various places in between. These volunteers measure snowfall amounts at their homes, which can change from blowing and drifting.

Regardless, Kulik noted that northern Oakland County and southern Genesee County "got clobbered."

In Flint, the 17.1 inches of snowfall was the third most since recordkeeping began in 1921, only behind April 2-3, 1975 when 17.3 inches fell, and Jan. 26-27, 1967 when 22.7 inches fell. The average snowfall in Flint for the entire month of January is 13.1 inches.

Following the snow, extreme cold temperatures moved in from the north. The large arctic air mass is caused by the jet stream moving further south.

"This is usually over Canada," said Kulik. "They deal with this all the time."

The coldest temperatures came right at about 7 a.m., Jan. 7 when -17 degrees fahrenheit was recorded at NWS White Lake. With the windchill, it felt like 36 degrees below zero. In Flint, it was -14, the sixth coldest day in recorded history (the all-time lowest recorded temp in Flint history was -25, reached on Jan. 18, 1976).

Flint did make the record books on Tuesday, with the temperature being the lowest ever recorded for the Jan. 7 date.

Brandon Fire Chief Dave Kwapis said Tuesday that BFD personnel had not seen an increase in the number of medical runs.

"We've not had anything weather-related," he said. "People are getting smarter about snow shoveling. Take your time. If you have young kids, make them get out there and do it. The biggest thing is that those who are younger, should check on their neighbors, especially the elderly. We have a lot of seniors in our township."

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, who checked on senior citizens following the ice storm prior to Christmas, mobilized again this week for another check on the elderly and disabled. Kwapis said everyone was accounted for and had heat and electricity.

The fire chief advises all residents to bundle up for the cold, protecting skin by dressing in layers, and limiting exposure to the outside as much as possible. He also recommends a vehicle emergency kit consisting of blankets, flashlights, and water and requests homeowners keep their driveway cleared of snow so emergency personnel have access if needed. Make sure vents are clear of snow and invest in a carbon monoxide detector with digital display.

Kulik said on Tuesday area residents can expect a warm-up this weekend, with a high of nearly 40 on Saturday with a chance of rain, and high of 36 on Sunday. No major snowstorms are forecast for the next several days.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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