The great ice storm of 1922

Memories from weather incident still spoke of 100 years later 

WEST CENTRAL MICHIGAN — Tuesday was Feb. 22, 2022, commonly written as 2-22-22. But for some residents, the significance of 2-22-22 isn’t in the year 2022, but in 1922, when one of the worst ice storms recorded swept through this part of Michigan. 

"It rained hard for three days, and then everything froze. There were at least two inches of ice on everything, power lines down everywhere," said Dave Randall, 86, recalling memories he heard his family tell while he was growing up on the farm passed down from his grandfather, now the Randall Centennial farm in Chase Township.  

This large system began its malicious march through Michigan on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 1922, crossing over Lake Michigan to cover most of the mid-section of the state, with an area of 30 to 100 miles in width. The southern limit was in central Newaygo County and extended east, just north of Bay City. The northern limits began at Frankfort and sloped southeast to Roscommon, then jogged northeast to the Lake Huron shoreline just north of Oscoda, according to a survey by Michigan Bureau of Agricultural Development published in June 1922.

The survey explained how the entire area experienced unusually heavy rains, and when the temperature fell just below the freezing point, a thick coat of ice formed on all exposed objects. In several places ice reached more than four inches, weighing 20 to 30 times the weight of twigs and wires on which it formed. 

This caused great damage to trees and limbs, telephone and telegraph lines, power lines, roofing and more. 

The weight of ice on a 12-inch strand of telephone wire was cited as 11 pounds, according to "Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book," by Christopher C. Burt.

One could imagine how the snapping branches sounded like a chorus of guns shooting off as the ice took its toll. Old trees marred from the storm still tell of its fury, including the large sugar maples on the Randall Centennial farm on 64th Street, which then was the route for U.S. 10, east of the Chase Township Cemetery on Hawkins Road.

"My father, Earl Randall, was alive then. At the farm on 64th, the huge sugar maples in front lost all their limbs from the weight of the storm. The ice brought them down, crash, crash, crash," Randall described. "You can see how big the trunks are but how small the limbs are, which have grown back. The trees are about 150 years old, and give the best maple syrup." 

Thousands of fruit trees were damaged by the ice. On the Spears farm in Pinora Township, Lake County, the storm destroyed the peach and cherry orchard, also hindering the maple syrup crop for that year. The apple harvest that fall was very poor, according to local historian Sid Woods, who still owns the Spears farm his ancestors homesteaded. 

The power line towers on State Road, constructed in 1917, were completely down and had to be replaced, Woods also recalled. His great-uncle, Bert Woods, of Nirvana, helped haul the new towers (in parts to be assembled) in his Model-T Ford truck. These power lines mostly ran to cities, and in some rural communities like Chase that didn't have power yet, the pain of the storm was felt more in the destruction of trees. 

For some, there were no school cancellations. In one of the stories Woods was told, Marion Baar had a treacherous walk during the ice storm to Rosenberg School in Pinora Township, where her mother Mrs. Gingrich taught. 

Some kids enjoyed the wonderment of the storm, conducting experiments on the ice, such as in this amusing anecdote Randall tells of his uncle on the family farm on Old U.S. 10. 

"My uncle, who was 6, and a friend his age, experimented with a sled by putting a sail on it. The wind was straight out of the west, and they took off down the road, and went all the way to Reed City, up and over the hills. But they couldn't get back, because there was no wind from the east. They ended up staying overnight at the Baptist pastor's home in Reed City," Randall said. 

Areas south of the storm system had warmer air and light precipitation, and areas north experienced unusually heavy snowfall, some exceeding 30 inches with strong winds and drifts. Both areas to the north and south experienced similar ice storms later in March of 1922, but not near as damaging as the storm of 2-22-22.