Storm Approaches


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An unofficial source of Eagle Harbor, Michigan news, views and information.

Winter Storm Approaches

The Week's Weather Journal.

"...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)

The Week Of October 12, 1997


It's a good day for a Harbor "walkabout". A deep low pressure system to the west has generated strong but warm southerly wind. Not quite "tees and shorts", but close. The weather maps suggest this to be the lot of most of the midwest. Surely the last gasp of a tenacious fall. Folks about the Harbor are out in their yards, marvelling at it all as they scurry to complete outdoor preparation for the winter sure to come. Woodpiles are covered with tarp, yard bushes are decked out in wood coats and planting beds layered with pine bough to protect them from the weight of snow, eaves and gutters cleaned out, snowblowers tuned up, and snow scoops waxed. Much chatter about the uncertainity posed by el Nino. The general consensus: "it won't make a hell of a lot of difference". Keweenaw winters, it is argued, are a local phenomena, born of our northerly latitude and rugged land mass jutting into the lee of the big lake. I'm not so sure, wondering if our pervasive isolation doesn't at times restrict our capacity to comprehend the import of continental and global events. Perhaps this is good.


It's noon, and I'm watching an awesome army of mean looking clouds roar in from the lake. This, I assume, is the much heralded "intense cold front" the Weather Bureau has predicted. An hour ago the sun was peaking from its blue sky home through scattered clouds as they raced before the strong southerly warm winds that have been our lot for the last several days. At dawn the temperature was above sixty degrees. Now, suddenly, there is a cold chill in the air. PEREGRINE, my harbor anchored sailboat, is swinging quickly from its southerly heading to the northwest. The harbor water turns black, its waves in utter confusion as they scramble to comply with their new marching orders. Street lights pop on as an eclipse like darkness ensues. A rapidly moving mist evolves, blanking out the skyline and view into the hills above us. Strong wind gusts are pushing my wind guage up into the 40 to 50 knot range. The house shutters. Abby, the wonderdog, crawls under a chair. The thermometer is plunging, down 15 degrees in just half-an-hour and still heading for the floor. Up-bound laker skippers off the Keweenaw shore are busy on the marine frequencies, exchanging wind speed and direction information and modifying course to reduce wind loads on their high freeboards. A section of my woodpile collapses, loose gear starts to move about the yard, a storm door is ripped open. I must get to work.


It's inevitable, but always a surprise The first snow. Lots of flakes in the air around the harbor in early morn, but in keeping with our "banana belt" reputation, no accumulation that I could see. The County snow plows were out, however, and reports from folks up the hill suggested several inches of snow on the least for a while. Those of us who forecasted 0 inches in October got a reprive...the snow gauge at Delaware was not yet installed. So "officially" no measurable snow. (Hey, I make the complaints!) In fact, I'll probably adjust everyone's October forecast to at least the actual through October 20th, the contest entry deadline date, so that those of you waiting until the last minute don't take undue advantage of those of us who were crazy enough to stick our necks out earlier. (This change in rules occurred to me as I watched yesterday's snowfall put my October guess in jeopardy. It's a friendly contest, right?)


Clearing, but cold (about 30 at daybreak). Yesterday's snowfall totalled about two inches at the airport. Front page news in the Mining Gazette, which speaks volumes about the pace of life up here. It feels good to have my fireplace blazing again. Abby is curled up in her customary winter indoor post...on the warm hearth. My wood pile, which in the warm days of the past month seemed more than adequate for the winter ahead, suddenly looks much too small. The price of firewood has increased significantly in the last two years. It's now about $145 for four splits (one and one-third full cord - what is locally referred to as "a load"), cut, dried, split and delivered. Some blame Champion because they have reportedly greatly restricted the number of cutting permits. My guess it's just demand outpacing supply. More folks with big fireplaces and wood stoves around, and fewer cutters. I've also noticed that the wood is not as dry as it once was. I now have to split the halves into quarters to assure a good burn. Splitting wood is mindless, but satisfying work. I guess it appeals to one's ongoing quest for a degree of self-sufficiency. Probably not a good idea for someone with big time heart problems. My doc says it's a no-brainer!


Cold moist air on warm, well at least warmer, water. A sure cause for fog. And fog it was in our 28 degree dawn. Not the heavy blanket of fog so often seen in the harbor, but wisps, like steam rising from the water. Made all the more beautiful by a dazzling sun lifting over the harbor's east beach and reflecting off the glassy water surface ... and transforing the fog wisps into threads of gold.. No wind...not a sound. At evening, the full harvest moon joined the celestrial parade, orchestrating it's own light show on the now slightly rippled harbor water surface.


(Day One of PEREGRINE's late fall journey to its winter roost in Pequaming.) I finally get the "weather window" I've been waiting for. A gentle day with a warming sun, light southwesterlies, and moderate seas. John Clarkson joins me for the sail to the Houghton County Marina. As we pass through the harbor entry rocks at 10 a.m., I sense the collective sigh of relief behind me from the many Harborites worried that PEREGRINE might not leave her mooring before the ice arrives. We enjoy a leisurely sail to the Upper Entry with several long tacks as the wind is directly from our course heading. John is full of wonderful stories so the time goes quickly. We pass the "out of commission" entry light at about 6:30 p.m. and begin to motor down the twisting Portage Canal. The sinking sun breaks through a crease in the low western sky, casting a golden hue on the still colorful forested hills behind the east shore. Dogs bark as we pass by the many camps, but there is little sign of human activity as evening turns to night. I man the radar and chart plotter and John, with the good eyes, takes the helm. With five feet of keel, we dare not wander out of the dredged channal. The last bend presents a twinkling array of lights from the waterfronts of Houghton and Hancock. I radio the bridge tender who seems surprised to have a customer so late in the season and the day. We circle several times, waiting for pedestrians enjoying a bridge walk on a warm, 56 degree, fall evening, to complete their leisurely stroll. At last the mighty bridge cranks noisily up to accomodate our 55 foot high mast and we slip quietly underneath. PEREGRINE pulls into a slip at the adjacent almost empty marina at 8:30 p.m. Nany Clarkson arrives and spreads a picnic lunch on the hood of the Jeep for the hungry and thirsty crew. We munch, sip, exchange stories, and watch the harvest moon rise over the canal. A fine day. We are back at the Harbor about 10:30 p.m..


(Day two of PEREGRINE's late fall journey to its winter rost in Pequaming.) I hesitate, not sure if this is the day for the 25 mile run from Houghton Marina to Pequaming. The forecast is for strong southwest winds and I know shallow Keweenaw Bay can quickly become very uncomfortable in such wind. However, Bruce and Jeane Olson have offered to drive my van to Pequaming today with Bruce then joining me for this last sail of the season. I decide to go, but by the time we depart from the marina, it's about 1:30 p.m. Our trip is extended as we need to stop at Baraga for a holding tank pumpout, adding about ten miles to the journey. (The pump out in Houghton had already been "winterized.") But off we go, knowing that a late night arrival was certain...not a pleasant prospect in unmarked rock and piling cluttered Pequaming. The wind stiffens as we motor down the waterway, but it's still mild and with our canvas enclosed cockpit, we are comfortable, and the boat rides steadily, although slowly, into a building sea. We arrive at the lower entry about 4:30 p.m. and poke our little ship out into Keweenaw Bay. The seas are big, and with the 25 knot wind right on our nose, our speed is reduced to less than two knots. It's rapidly getting dark. Waves always seem larger when you can't see them, and the wind noise at night begins to dominate the senses. I decide to abort the effort and we turn back into the waterway and seek the shelter of a tie off from the seawall about a quarter mile from the entry. The forecast is for a strong cold front to arrive overnight with rain and northwest winds. A small craft warning is listed as a posibility for Sunday. We take a short hike along a nearby road, add more mooring lines to better secure the boat against the swells coming in from the entry and the expected wind shift, and then bed down for the night (no food on board), planning to continue our journey in the lull that normally occurs between major wind shifts.

The Snow Report

(10/11) Weather forecasts include a "possibility" of snow in the "higher elevation". It's time to reinstate the Snow Report.

Keweenaw Snow Record (1)
Year Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Total
97-98 0.0(2) 0.0(3)
96-97 0.0 28.3 83.6 104.6 19.3 35.9 2.1 0.0 273.8
95-96 0.0 50.7 96.6 108.2 35.4 41.8 26.2 8.5 367.4
Most 23.1 75.5 129.3 111.4 79.8 78.3 34.8 13.9 390.4(4)
Least 0.0 3.9 16.6 35.6 15.3 3.0 0.0 0.0 161.7(5)
Avg 3.1 29.0 62.2 70.6 38.5 27.4 10.9 1.6 243.2

(1) Recordings by Keweenaw County Road Commission since 1957.
(2) Month-to-Date
(3) Year-to-Date
(4) 1978-1979.
(5) 1957-1958.

The Weather Archive.

The 1996 - 1997 Winter Snow Report

The Week of October 5th
The Week of September 28th
The Week of June 1st
The Week of May 18th
The Week of May 11th
The Week of May 4th
The Week of April 27th
The Week of March 23rd
The Week of March 16th
The Week of March 9th

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