Can southeast Michigan get a hurricane? We've had tropical leftovers before

What is a 'Huroncane'?
Posted at 1:27 PM, Oct 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-09 13:43:53-04

Not to be a nattering nabob of negativism, but in Detroit, Nate was not nasty. The former hurricane brought less then a quarter inch of rain overnight while our winds maxed out at about 10 mph. Not exactly the storm of the century.

he biggest reason for its relative wimpiness  is that we're almost 900 miles from where it made landfall in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is where Nate got its fuel, very warm water, and by the time the cloud swirl made it here, it was almost out of gas.

For a hurricane to form, a group of showers and thunderstorms needs to be over water that is at least 26 degrees Celsius, or 79 Fahrenheit. Even in hot summers, no large sections of the Great Lakes get that warm, so a hurricane can't form right near us in metro Detroit. 

But we do get impacts, usually some rain and gusty winds, from the leftovers of hurricanes on average about every two years here in metro Detroit. In late October of 2015, we got over an inch of rain from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, after the leftovers of Hurricane Blanca had brought us a lighter soaking in June that same year. Both these storms formed in the eastern Pacific Ocean and approached us from the southwest.

On September 10, 2014, the rainiest day of that month brought almost 1 1/2 inches as Hurricane Norbert's remains moved through, also from the eastern Pacific. But the nastiest outcome from a dying tropical system in metro Detroit's recent history was September 13, 2008, when winds estimated at 120 mph tore through parts of Plymouth in an EF-2 tornado. The moisture that helped spawn that twister was part of what had been Hurricane Ike.  


Going farther back, I vividly recall a very unusual storm that got nicknamed the "Huroncane" in mid-September of 1996. It started as a regular low pressure area moving over Lake Huron, then it backed up, sat over the relatively warm waters (mid-60s F) of Lake Huron and strengthened, eventually taking on the look of a small hurricane, complete with a clear center that looked like an "eye." The rain from that storm caused flooding near Buffalo, and winds near Port Huron gusted to about 45 mph. A hurricane requires sustained winds of at least 74 mph, so it wasn't a hurricane, but it had a bizarre look and feel that led to its catchy nickname.

One last genuine tropical system worth mentioning lashed metro Detroit so long ago that not too many people remember, but it was nasty. Before we started naming hurricanes (in 1953), a strong category 2 storm slammed into the Texas coast southwest of Galveston, near Houston, on September 23, 1941 with 110 mph sustained winds.

At least four people were killed as an 11 foot storm surge roared ashore. It weakened after landfall and moved into northeast Texas by the next day before it got caught up in the jet stream. Over the next 24 hours, it rocketed 1000 miles northeast, averaging a 40-45 mph forward speed, where it merged with a cold front pushing into the Great Lakes.

This very fast motion didn't allow the storm to weaken much, so winds in southeast Michigan gusted to 70-75 mph as the center of the storm moved between Detroit and Flint. According to the Detroit Free Press, "dozens of people were injured by falling glass from windows blown out or debris tossed by the wind."

As water was blown out of the Detroit River, its water level fell three feet, stranding boats on the exposed bottom, while many trees and power lines came down. A storm from the tropics like the one that whacked us on September 25, 1941 is thankfully only about a once-a-century event for us. I hope that would be a positive enough message for Spiro Agnew. You can learn more about that storm and the "Huroncane" here.