Joe Pye Weed


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"In Quest of the Measuring Stick." By George Hite (January, 1997)

Have you ever wondered where and how the Keweenaw snowfall is measured? The big 32 feet high "thermometer" aside US 41 records the totals for resident and tourist alike, but where do the numbers come from? Is there a snow measuring device someplace? Where? Who maintains it? These awesome questions drove me to my quest of the measuring stick.

StickThe road sign says, "Delaware -- Snow Capital of the Midwest". I figured that had to be the place. Would the good honest folks up here make such a claim without proof? Ghost town Delaware doesn't appear to have an active Chamber of Commerce, so who's making the claim? A call to the National Weather Service at Houghton gets a, "Not us, we measure at the airport." response. Must be the County I figure, they put up the tourist signs around here. (It's a "tourist sign" if it comes down in the winter, as most of our road signs do. They aren't high enough to be seen in winter!) Sure enough, the helpful folks at the Keweenaw County Road Commission (KCRC) fess up and say they have the records to prove the Delaware brag. "Just go up to Delaware and you'll find our measuring stick. Our plow crew checks it daily."

"Just going up to Delaware" is no easy trek. The road up from the Harbor is not plowed. Knowing you would want a picture, I put my camera in the knapsack, strap on the skis, park the van where the road starts and embark up the hill on the seven mile roundtrip quest for the "measuring stick". Nobody ever said publishing a web page would be easy! (I know, I could have driven there on US 41, but this makes a better story.)

OK, I'm there. Now where's the stick? Up by the mine? Probably not -- no way anyone could trudge up there through the deep snow. Must be down near US 41, the only plowed road in the area. Sure enough, along the north side of 41, just east of the now closed road up to the mine, I see evidence of someone having struggled up over the high roadside snowbank. I sidestep up the bank, follow leg holes through deep snow for about a hundred feet, and sure enough -- there's the stick! It's got to be THE stick; its graduated in inches like a yardstick and has KCRC emblazoned in gold at the top. The snow surrounds the 48 inch mark.

Snow StationBut there's more than the stick. Nearby is a wood table stand with a open top box sitting on it. The box is about 18 inches square and ten inches deep. Engraved on the side is, "KCRC Delaware Snow Guage, 1958". An inch scale is marked on the inside. There is about a half inch of new snow in the box. I gather the picture evidence, pack my camera and ski back to the Harbor. A lot easier and much faster going down the hill!

"Yep," says the County Engineer, "we measure the daily snowfall in the box and use the measuring stick to keep track of snow depth on the ground. Been doing it since 1957. Biggest snow year was 1978-1979, with 390.4 inches. Last winter's 367.4 was the second biggest. The average is 243.2 inches. The first year was the lowest, just 161.7 inches. 1986-1987 wasn't much better, only 168.7 inches. That's less than 15 feet -- hardly worth getting the plows out for that."

Now I need to call the National Weather Service back and find out if the "box on a table stand" is the "official" method of measuring snowfall. Seems to me I remember something about multiplying inches of precipitation (melted snow) by a factor, I remember ten, to convert to inches of snow. Oh well, my quest has been satisfied, and until someone proves otherwise, I'll accept the KCRC claim that Keweenaw's goast town, Delaware, is indeed the "Snow Capital of the Midwest". Take a hike up the hill next summer and see "The Measuring Stick" for yourself. Have your picture taken at "The Midwest Snow Capital".

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