CURRENT GRAND MARAIS SCENES: March 2008

Winter just doesn’t want to leave the Upper Peninsula. Since the wind has been shifting, ice flows are moving around the big lake. In the first photo that was taken from Sable Falls Creek (second creek) looking back towards town, you can see all of the floating ice on the north side of the icebergs.

The bay has been frozen over most of the winter for the first time in many years. It didn’t start to break up until the last week of March, as currents came in from the channel to chip away at the frozen bay. This shot was taken from the balcony of one of the condominiums out on Coast Guard Point.

The third weekend of the month, my friend, Scott and I, skied from the parking lot at Agate Beach past second creek. Although it is dangerous to go out onto the icebergs, we carefully climbed to the top of the first row that was situated over the edge of the beach. The next photo was taken looking west from the top of this first iceberg row. The last shot was taken from beach level, just past Sable Falls Creek. You can see from this last photo that the icebergs are around 20 or 30 feet tall!

 

CURRENT GRAND MARAIS SCENES: February 2008

This has certainly been an “old fashioned” winter. There has been one blizzard after another. It is a good thing that I am a cross-country skier who enjoys being outside in the winter. For if not, I would have missed just how beautiful the winter has been. One of the blizzards blew for over 30 hours with winds up to 66 mph (measured at the light house at the end of the breakwater), and a chill factor of 45 degrees below zero. The blizzard was so intense, that it completely coated the branches of the evergreens. Pictured below are two of my ski friends, Dianna Bell and Sandee Sibald on the backside of Trail B in the national park.

The great amount of snow has started to pile up on shore. Last weekend, a few of us skied in the School Forest out to Goebel Beach. There are three distinct rows of icebergs. Some of the bergs appear to be around 30 feet tall! With much more of winter to go, it is going to be fun watching the icebergs grow.

Although I prefer to ski, one nice thing about snowshoeing is that you often come across scenes with snow that has not yet been walked on. This is a shot I took of the bridge that is across Sable Creek between Sable Falls and the sand dunes, on the way to the Ghost Forest.

While skiing my property late one night, I experimented with taking pictures of icicles hanging off my house.

CURRENT GRAND MARAIS SCENES: January 2008

If you have never been on the shoreline of a Great Lake when the lake-effect-snow-making machine cranks up, then you have missed an exciting weather experience. Most people don’t like snow, especially when it is coming down in a white-out event. However, the experience can be intense, as long as you don’t have to drive. (Note: See more information about lake-effect snow below.)

Lake-effect snow has certainly hit the Grand Marais area this past few weeks. Pictured below are some shots I took on January 26th during a snow-shoe from the Sable Visitor’s Center, along Sable Falls (Second) Creek, to the Lake Superior shoreline and back. In the summer, you can complete this 2.8 mile round-trip hike in an hour or so. In the deep snow, it took me almost 3 hours! It was grueling and more of a work out than I bargained for, but it was worth it!

The first picture is of Sable Falls Creek, about half-way between the visitor’s center and the falls. In some places, the river’s current creates enough friction to prevent freezing, while in other places the river completely freezes over. Note “Casper” hanging on the branch in the lower right hand corner of the first picture. In places where the river is frozen over, beautiful ice swirls can form from the influences of the river’s current.

Compare the picture of Sable Falls below, with the one included in the fall. What a difference! The heavy snows and cold temperatures definitely created this natural ice sculpture!

Because I have been busy, I have not had time to get down to the beach since before the lake-effect snows began. I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since people were finding agates only a few weeks ago. No longer. Not only does the snow pile up on the beach, but the snow that falls into the lake sometimes forms slush, which is piled up into icebergs by the waves. This picture was taken right at the mouth of Sable Falls Creek, looking west toward the Log Slide. You can see the first row of icebergs that have formed just off-shore. Some of them are already almost 20 feet tall. This could be a great year for big picturesque icebergs! That is good news for all you rockhounds. Once they form, icebergs can break off with a stiff south wind, get blown to distant beaches, gouge up rocks as they are shoved to shore, break off again with another change in wind direction, and end up deposited on our beach in the spring to melt with their new load of rocks.

Lake-Effect Snow

Lake-effect snow occurs when you have a cold air mass that blows over a large body of water with a significantly warmer temperature. A convection occurs wherein the warmer air with its moisture rises. As it rises, the water vapor condenses to form clouds. As the clouds reach the colder landmass downwind, the moisture is squeezed back out of the clouds in the form of snow.

Lake-effect snow squalls occur during late fall and early winter when cold arctic air blows over long expanses of warmer lake water. The areas that receive lake-effect snow are called snow belts. Although this weather phenomenon occur at several places in the world, it is best known on the southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes.

There are several characteristics that impact lake-effect snow:

  1. Temperature Difference: To produce lake-effect precipitation, the temperature of the air mass must be significantly colder than the temperature of the water. The greater the difference, the more the instability and the higher the potential for developing snow. Usually the temperature difference must be at least 30 degrees to create lake-effect precipitation.
  2. Fetch: The fetch is the distance across the lake that the air mass moves. The greater the distance, the more chance there is for heat energy and moisture to transfer from water to air, thus, increasing the amount of precipitation that can be produced. Usually the fetch must be at least 60 miles to produce lake-effect precipitation.
  3. Wind Shear: Wind shear refers to variation of wind speed or direction. When there is a weak directional shear (less than 30 degree change of direction), well organized bands of clouds form resulting in greater amounts of lake enhanced precipitation. If the directional shear is between 30 and 60 degrees, weak lake-effect bands are possible. If the directional shear is greater than 60 degrees, nothing more than flurries is usually produced.
  4. Wind Speed: The higher the wind speed, the farther inland will be the potential for lake-effect snow.
  5. Topography: The speed of wind offshore can be nearly double the wind speed observed onshore. This is caused by the differences in friction between land and water. When wind is blowing over water, there is less friction compared to when wind blows over land. Thus, the more complex the topography is onshore, the more friction there is, and the more the wind is slowed down which can increase the amount of lake-effect precipitation. Also, the higher the elevation on shore, the more the moisture is squeezed out of the lake-effect clouds.
  6. Ice Cover: As the lake gradually freezes over, the potential for lake-effect snow is lessoned. This occurs because the liquid surface of the lake shrinks reducing the potential for transferring heat and moisture to form lake-effect clouds. Also, as the lake temperature drops, the temperature difference between the lake and the air mass decreases, thus, reducing the instability and limiting the energy that can “fuel” the lake-effect machine.

The amount of lake-effect snow produced depends upon all of the factors listed above. If the conditions are right, up to 10 inches of snow have been known to fall per hour. This month in Grand Marais, we have received almost three feet of lake-effect snow. One of the record lake-effect snow events ever recorded occurred in Buffalo, NY between December 24th and 28th, 2001 during which 82.3 inches of snow fell!

The impact of the lake-effect machine can especially be seen in the Lake Superior region. Snowbelt areas in the Keeweenaw and near Grand Marais average over 250 inches of total snowfall each year. Duluth, MN, which is not impacted by lake-effect due to its proximity on the western shore (protected from the predominant northwest winds), averages only around 77 inches per year. Also, in any single storm, Grand Marais can receive a dozen or more inches of snow, while Seney, located 25 miles to the south, receives none.

CURRENT SCENES OF GRAND MARAIS: December 2007

Unlike last year when we had almost no snow until the third week of January, winter has started early this year. The pictures in this update include a couple taken in November on a hike to Au Sable Lighthouse. The first is an interesting picture of the lighthouse, with a late fall sun angle. The second features one of my favorite views of the Grand Sable Banks, taken from the beach east of the lighthouse.

In late November and early December, my friend Scott and I started training to get in shape for this winter’s cross-country skiing. Before the sand froze, this was not a problem. However, the two pictures shown below were taken on a dunes hike that proved to be quite challenging. It is not at all easy to walk up and down dunes when the sand is frozen. Winter dunes scenes, though, are quite picturesque and worth the hiking difficulty!

While returning from the Gitche Gumee Gathering private art show in Marquette last weekend, my friend Renee Beaver/Stocking and I stopped by Munising Falls to check on the progress of ice formation. We were not disappointed. A team of artists could not do a better job than nature has to sculpture both the river and the falls!

 

CURRENT SCENES OF GRAND MARAIS: August 2007

With the very busy August, I did not get out into nature to take any photographs. Thus, this month’s scenes were taken at the Grand Marais Music and Arts Festival. I must admit, that this year’s festival was one of the best in recent years. Other than a few raindrops on Saturday and some wind that threatened my new art tent, the weather was superb. The rain also treated us to a wonderful rainbow that lasted for over a half hour. Also included below is a picture of the mysterious Stilt Man, a photo of the crowd, and a picture of one of the local bands who entertained us from the new side stage.

Festival CrowdRainbow over the festival
Nick and the bandStilt Man

CURRENT SCENES OF GRAND MARAIS: July 2007 Scenes

clowns

The July 4th Holiday in Grand Marais was another Gem. Since I did participate in the parade again, this year riding my bike wearing the bear coat (rather than walking), I don’t get much of a chance to see the other participants. Before it began, though, I took this picture of the Bennett clan. On the side of their float, keeping with this year’s theme, the sign said “Don’t Clown Around — Save the Bay.”

Every once in a while those of us who live in Grand Marais must take trips out of town to purchase items not locally available. While in Marquette, I snapped a couple of pictures of a freighter. The first is the freighter heading into the ore dock. The second shows the freighter loading iron ore pellets. Notice the chutes that swing down to dump the pellets into the ship’s hold.

 

CURRENT SCENES OF GRAND MARAIS: June 2007 Scenes

My friends have learned that in July and August, I am busy with the museum, thus, not allowing time to go camping and hiking. Also, the best time to “do Grand Marais,” as we locals call it, is in the spring and the fall. The visit from my friends Marsha and Denise provided an opportunity for me to camp at 12-mile beach for a night, as well as to hike the Lakeshore.

CURRENT SCENES OF GRAND MARAIS: May 2007 Scenes

Each monthly update will include recent photos. Usually, these are photos from the Grand Marais area. In most cases, the photos will be those taken from the previous month. For example, the May update includes April photos.