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The Blizzard of 1967

One of the Worst Winter Storms in Michigan History


Eleven years to the day before “The Great Blizzard of 1978,” a massive winter storm of historic proportion engulfed the upper Midwest and brought much of southern lower Michigan to a standstill. Folks called it “The ’67 Storm.”

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East Michigan Avenue in front of Hotel Harris, January 1967. Courtesy, Kalamazoo Valley Museum

After an unusual five-day warm spell with temperatures in the upper 50s to low 60s, a fast-moving line of thunderstorms moved across the region late in the evening on 24 January 1967, triggering a rare January tornado watch for Southwest Michigan. Strong southwest winds were reported with gusts in excess of 70 miles per hour. Thankfully there were no apparent tornados in West Michigan, but the fun was only just beginning.

Temperatures dropped 20 degrees in an hour’s time as the front passed. Kalamazooans endured torrential rain, which quickly turned to heavy wind-driven snow. By Thursday morning, January 26th, Kalamazoo’s municipal airport was closed, as area roads became snow covered and extremely hazardous. Many schools closed early because of the storm, including Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. For the first time in its 112-year history, Michigan State University in East Lansing was closed due to the weather. By 1pm, more than 8 inches of snow blanketed the area and a lot more was on the way. Winter had returned with a vengeance to West Michigan.

By 6pm Thursday, I-94 was at a standstill. “House-high” drifts were reported along US 131, where dozens of cars were left stranded. The local telephone systems were inundated with more than twice the normal number of calls. (Remember, this was 1967… well before the days of cell phones and computer-controlled networks. Local and long-distance landline calls had to be connected manually by human telephone operators.) Hundreds of calls were placed by stranded motorists, which kept the telephone lines (and the operators) busy for hours. More than 60 members of the National Guard were called out in military vehicles to assist stranded motorists along I-94 and US 131. According to one Kalamazoo weatherman, “Nothing moved for two days; in the Kalamazoo area and across the state nothing went anywhere.”

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March Street Hill, south from Palmer Ave., 27 January 1967. Photo by Roger Dinda, courtesy Joel Dinda (Flickr)

By Saturday, the storm had passed, and folks were beginning to dig their way out. A record 30 inches of snow fell on Kalamazoo, while the high winds caused heavy drifting. Most highways and secondary roads were drifted shut. US 131 remained closed near Schoolcraft as some 500 stranded motorists took refuge in that area. Some lanes were made passable north of Kalamazoo through to Grand Rapids. Area schools remained closed for several days. It would be a week or more before things would return to “somewhat” normal.

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Snowfall during the blizzard of 1967 (25-27 January 1967). National Weather Service, Eric Gaertner (MLive)

“The ’67 Storm” was called one of the all-time worst winter storms in Michigan history, mostly due to the way weather conditions changed so rapidly. Within hours, Michiganders saw record high temperatures in the 50s and 60s plummet, as more than two feet of heavy wet snow brought life to a standstill. In the end, at least five deaths were reported in Kalamazoo due to the storm, with 17 others reported elsewhere across the state as the “massive dig-out” continued.

 

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, January 2024

Sources

Articles

“Blizzard pounds northern Midwest”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 January 1967, page 1, column 1

“Windy storm heralds return to winter”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 January 1967, page 1, column 5

“Snow snarls area traffic”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 January 1967, page 1, column 1

“Storm blocks off the valley”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 January 1967, page 1, column 1

“Record snowfall buries entire area”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 January 1967, page 1, column 1

“It’s reached 17 inches and more still coming”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 January 1967, page 4, column 1

“Life in Kalamazoo grew difficult”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 January 1967, page 17 (Section 2), column 1

“Storm over; it’ll be long weekend”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 January 1967, page 1, column 1

“Photo record! You can say ‘Remember the ’67 Storm’”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 January 1967, page 3, column 1

“Anniversary of the Blizzard of 1967”
Bill Steffen, WoodTV.com, 26 January 2022

“Blizzard of 1967”
Eric Gaertner, MLive / National Weather Service (n.d.)

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