We Remember May 9, 1923: “When King Winter Arrived in Gratiot County”

Alma resident Julia Rench took these three photographs on May 9, 1923.

It is never too late in the year to snow in Gratiot County. Almost exactly one century ago, residents discovered that King Winter still ruled when a May snowfall buried the county with up to a foot of snow.

The date was May 9, 1923, and when I first was told this story, I could not believe it – until my uncle, the late Aaron Bliss of Newark Township, described that day to me. Bliss remembered going to bed on May 8 and then awakened to a pile of snow that started falling after midnight and throughout the following morning. St. Louis reported that it had up to a foot of fresh snow, while other areas in mid-Michigan had at least six to eight inches.

Tree limbs began to bend under the weight of the snow, as did telephone lines. Soon both went down in scattered places across the county, and communication with Saginaw was temporarily lost. Fruit growers feared the loss of the summer crop. However, state experts predicted that most crops would survive as long as the temperature did not reach freezing. They also said that the early snow might be good for killing most bugs and insect pests.

While the temperature in places like Battle Creek dropped from 73 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it did not go low enough to cause severe damage.

For Aaron Bliss and other residents, the accumulated May snow was short-lived at that time. Within a day, the snow had melted due to the warm ground, and it was soon gone. On the positive side, many farmers were happy that the snow provided much-needed moisture for the dry land.

 A week later, Gratiot farmers got another blast from nature that came in the form of heavy rain. This time a total of 3.66 inches of rain came down in Gratiot County over two days, giving the ground even more moisture. 

Not much exists today about the May 9, 1923 snowstorm aside from newspaper accounts. However, those like Julia Rench of Alma and Fred Howes, Sr. of Ithaca, ventured out into the snow and took pictures.

Today, the Rench and Howes photographs remind us of when King Winter visited Gratiot County for a day in early May 1923.