During May, West Michigan finishes the spring season and prepares for summer. The typical high temperature warms from 65° on the 1st to 74° on the 31st. Low temperatures take a similar rise going from 43° to 53°.
We don’t usually see snow in May but there are two notable exceptions. These date back to the early 1900s when more than 5” fell.
While 2001 was the wettest month with 10.01” of precipitation, 1936 was the driest with only 0.72”.
The wettest day for the month was on May 15, 2001 when 4.15” of rain fell. Not only is this the wettest day for the month but the third wettest day ever recorded for the city. The fourth wettest day also happened in May when 4.10” fell on May 9, 1956. The number 1 and 2 spots belong to 8/19/1939 and 6/5/1905 when 4.22” was observed.
Actual and potential sunshine continue to increase during the month. We gain an hour of daylight. By the end of the month Grand Rapids has more than 15 hours of potential sunshine. The percent of possible sunshine also increases. May isn’t the sunniest month, but we’re getting closer with 57% of possible sunshine.
See the attached slideshow for more on the month of May as well as the outlook for May-July.
There are many interesting weather events for May, mostly revolving around severe thunderstorms and their destructive forces. I’ll highlight a few of the notable events from the National Weather Service Archives. To see the complete list, ‘Subscribe’ to the Grand Rapids Weather examiner for a daily email of historical events.
5/2/1930 – Grand Rapids was struck by a tornado that moved through the factory district on the south part of the city. Four people were injured as many buildings were unroofed. Damage totaled over a million dollars.
5/3/1954 – Snow falls on three straight days from the 3rd to the 5th across Lower Michigan. Record snowfall on this date includes the 1.3 inches at Grand Rapids.
5/3/1959 – Muskegon sets a record high of 82 degrees during a string of five straight days over 80 degrees.
5/4/1928 – A tornado destroyed several cottages along Bostwick Lake, about ten miles northeast of Grand Rapids.
5/10/1902 – A snowstorm drops from 1 to 6 inches of slushy snow across Lower Michigan. The four inches of snow at Muskegon is the latest measurable snow on record there
5/12/1956 – A severe weather outbreak produces tornadoes, high winds and large hail across Lower Michigan. A deadly tornado hit near Flint for the second time in three years, killing three people on the southeast side of the city. One person was killed in Gratiot County as a tornado moved between Alma and Ithaca. Muskegon was pelted with baseball-sized hail that caused thousands of dollars in damage to homes and cars.
5/16/1997 – Record low temperatures are set at Grand Rapids and Muskegon with both falling to 29 degrees. This will go in the record books as the coldest May on record at Grand Rapids.
5/18/1915 – Lansing records their latest measurable snow on record with 0.4 inches, and Grand Rapids does also, with 0.2 inches there.
5/19/1923 – A tornado injured two people in Kent County as it moved through rural areas from east of Coopersville to near Sparta.
5/20/1977 – The last half of May is unusually warm. Record high temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s are set across Lower Michigan from the 16th to the 28th. This helps make it the warmest May on record at Grand Rapids.
5/26/1961 – Snow flurries are observed across Lower Michigan as record cold air moves in. Temperatures fall well below freezing the next morning, wiping out much of the fruit crop.
5/27/1907 – Wet snowflakes fall at Grand Rapids and Muskegon. It is the latest snow on record at Grand Rapids.
5/27/1912 – A tornado destroys barns and kills livestock near East Leroy in Calhoun County.
5/29/1947 – Muskegon records its latest snow on record as some wet snowflakes mix in with a cold rain. The high temperature for the day is only 47 degrees after a low of 35.
5/31/1998 – A squall line of severe thunderstorms moves across Lower Michigan in the early morning with wind gusts between 90 and 120 mph. Thousands of trees are knocked down and hundreds of homes and businesses suffer damage. Sections of the state are declared a major disaster area and thousands are without power, some for several days.