Storm Approaches
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Winter Storm Approaches

"...when we don't live with birds or weather or waves we lose the opportunity to think hard about ourselves, to discover from nature important facts about human nature."
(excerpted from Nancy Lord's, Fishcamp)

Storm Watch

November, 1998.

Tuesday, 9 am.This looks serious! Major storm warnings on the marine radio for today and Wednesday. Winds over 60 mph and waves over 20 feet are forecast. The barometer has dropped 86 points in the last twelve hours and is going down fast. Right now, southeast winds of 25 to 45 mph are blasting across the harbor, kicking up big whitecaps. It's warm, 42 degrees, but the wind chill is below 20. Lots of rain. We are supposed to have a bit of a lull in late afternoon as the center of the storm passes by (like a hurricane eye), but then the wind is forecast to shift to the west and northwest, and intensify. Not much snow expected, but one wonders if the lake "snow machine" will kick in. I've hauled in a big pile of wood. Abby is spooked by the rattle of our camp and the howling of the wind. This storm's track and intensity is eerily similiar to the November 10th storm of 23 years ago - the one that sank the Fitzgerald! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, Noon.The blades on the whirligig on my lot corner post are just a blur. I should probably retrieve it before it disintegrates. The wind is still out of the southeast and now blowing constantly over 30 mph with 50-mph gust just minutes ago. The power has been flickering off and on for the last hour. The barometer is down another 41 points (0.41") since 9 am, and a total of 117 since last evening. My sailing rule of thumb is a drop of over 5 points per hour means that I need to get to a well-protected anchorage ASAP. It's now dropping at a rate of almost 14 points per hour! Big waves are rolling down the harbor. The beach is getting a terrible pounding. The temperature is 45, with a light, horizontal rain. My scanner is alive with messages of road and power crews. Lots of trees and big branches down. Our fire department is dealing with a crackling downed power line near the Marina Road. More later.

Tuesday, 6 PM. So far, the weather pros down in Chicago are right on the mark. They issue the Great Lakes marine forecasts and as predicted the wind is veering to the southwest and lessening in intensity as the center of the storm cell passes by. The rain stopped about 2 p.m. and the temperature got up to 50 degrees. We even had a few breaks in the sky. The Wonderdog and I took advantage of the storm lull and strolled over to the marina. A few branches down and no power along Marina Road, but otherwise not much to show for this morning's fierce wind. There was still enough wind to produce the wonderful "wooooo" of wind in tall pines. If you have been checking Bill Jackson's lake cam you have probably been surprised that the lake looked so calm. That's because the high winds were offshore. If, as predicted, the wind continues to veer to the west and then northwest, and intensifies to the 50 plus mph forecasted, the view by mid day tomorrow should be spectacular. The barometer bottomed out about 4 p.m. at 1.43" (143 points) below where it was last evening. That rate of drop, over 7 points per hour for 20 hours, is the hallmark of a storm of major proportion. The scanner chat is, "I've never seen the barometer drop so fast and so low!" It's dark as I write this and the wind is picking up. The camp is beginning to rattle.

Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. The power just returned. It went out at 4:45 this morning as I was making an entry in this storm journal. Seems as if everything from Mohawk north was knocked out. The scanner traffic says that Copper Harbor is still out. Abby and I huddled by a blazing fireplace but it still got uncomfortably cold. About 52 degrees! The wind is now west and moving to northwest. It's not as strong as expected: steady between 20 and 35 mph with gusts over 40. The temperature is 37 degrees, with windchills in the low teens. RAW! The barometer is rising as rapidly as it fell, having now recovered 96 of the 143 points lost in its eighteen-hour dive. The lake is stirred up and the lake cam is filled with the big, beautiful, and surprisingly green tinted breaking waves I see in the harbor entry. We had a brief snow shower about an hour ago. The weather folks say we might get a few more inches later today and tonight, but the wind is apparently too strong for lake effect snow to develop. It's very noisy, as crashing waves add their steady roar to the howl of the wind through the big trees just outside. It occurred to me last evening (as it does often) that most folks, especially those in large urban areas, aren't as fascinated as we big lake neighbors are with storms. In part, I suppose that's because these storms often leave their mark upon us - like closed roads or power outages. But it goes beyond that. For me at least, the major fascination is the opportunity to witness storms in the larger context of the environment we occupy. The vistas across distant ridges and out across the lake afford a "big picture" view of storm development and movement. The cloud movement in this storm has been vigorous and varied. In addition, the lake and harbor, so dominate in our sensory lives, are storms themselves as winds churn surfaces streaked by patterns of changing color intensity and hue. Trees sway and moan, with the big pines leading the chorus. What a show!

Wednesday, 5 p.m. A large flock of seagulls, certainly more than a hundred, are bobbing in the swells just off the beach. My guess is that they are migrating from someplace to the far north, perhaps Hudson Bay, heading for their winter home via the Mississippi flyway and were blown east of their track by the strong westerly wind. They look tired. Ridge hugging black bottomed cloud clusters are moving rapidly to the east. I imagine myself at the bottom of a clear river looking up at a fleet of hippos swimming by. A walk to the lighthouse a few minutes ago confirmed the source of much of the noise of this storm. Large waves rolling down the lake are loudly protesting as the protruding Keweenaw outcrop molests their southerly flanks. Waves ashore are not as big as they would be if the wind was more northerly, but the scene is frenzied nonetheless. Walking about in the very gusty wind blasting across the promenade upon which our favorite lighthouse is perched, was almost comical. Abby, slimmer and lower, must have thought her staggering master was into the juice. Brief sleet showers are the only form of precipitation we are experiencing, although the weather folks are still sticking with their moderate snow forecast. The barometer continues its rapid climb, now 116 points above its low and going up at about 5 points per hour. The wind will continue to be strong and maintain its slow turn to the northwest as long as the mercury moves at this rate.

Wednesday, 9 p.m. The marine weather team in Chicago has just downgraded the storm forecast from "storm" to "gale". If I remember correctly, "storm" means winds in excess of 50 mph, and "gale" signifies winds from 35 to 50 mph. The center of the storm is up in Canada and weakening. The temperature is now about 30 and the wind is still gusting from 20 to 30 mph from the west. A few snow showers are moving down the harbor. My guess is that the still relatively warm big lake will prevent it from getting much colder down here, and that snow accumulations will not amount to much more than a dusting. The wind will continue to blow, but heck it always blows for much of November. I admit to a tinge of disappointment. The very low barometer reading ( must have been near a record low) and the exceptional rate of its plunge, should have produced more of a storm than we got. I also hoped for a good snow. (Patience, George!) Oh well, there will be another day, and another storm.

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