Travel I 94 conditions

GALESBURG, Mich. — A multi-car pile-up on eastbound I-94 in the 9:00 hour Friday morning may have been preceded by a brief, intense lake-effect snow band creating near zero visibility. The accident, which occurred in eastern Kalamazoo County around the Galesburg area involved more than 100 cars and trucks and at least one fatality. Officially, the National Weather Service still had Winter Storm Warnings in effect at the time (until 4:00 PM Friday).

While the actual winter storm had already departed the area, West Michigan was under the influence of strong westerly winds, blowing and drifting snow, temperatures around 15 degrees at the time, and wind chills around zero. Doppler radar shows a dark blue band of brief, intense lake-effect snow over/along I-94 during the time of the accident. There’s a good chance it dropped visibilities to near zero (briefly) from about 9:00 AM – 9:20 AM.

Lake-effect can be a highly variable thing. Travel down U.S. 131, I-94, or I-96 could be filled with sunshine one minute, and commuters can literally be blinded with zero visibility the next minute. My experience with these types of accidents over the last 14 years all seem to share the same common denominator…a brief lake-effect snow squall with white-out conditions. People travelling too fast for the conditions and frankly not expecting to lose visibility seconds after seeing sunshine or clear/uneventful conditions.

Our radar technology allows us to confirm there was snow in the area at the time, but whether that particular burst created/or led to the accident is yet to be confirmed. There is no National Weather Service observation station in Galesburg. The closest ones are Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. At 9:00 AM, the temperature in Kalamazoo was 14, wind chill -1, winds westerly at 14 mph, and visibility was .75/mile. In Battle Creek the 9:00 AM temperature was 17, wind chill 3, winds westerly at 14 mph, and visibility .75/mile. So we can deduce/interpolate what conditions would have been like in Galesburg. A ten mile visibility is a clear, unobstructed view. These close reporting stations give us (as Meteorologists) a very good idea of what conditions were like just before the accident…although obs are typically taken a few minutes BEFORE the top of the hour. That said, it is NOT indicative of the actual snow squall/white-out that may have occurred just minutes later.

No doubt this will be heavily and thoroughly investigated over the coming days and weeks. Lake-effect snow showers will slowly diminish this evening/overnight and we’ll see more quiet winter weather this weekend. Click over to for the complete forecast.

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