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 January 11, 1998


The Eagle Harbor cross-country ski trail is groomed for the first time this season. Bruce Olson and John Clarkson pack down the new snow with snowmobiles and Bruce then grooms and tracks. My ticker is acting up a bit so I resist the temptation to join the several who dig their skis out of storage for an inaugural trip around the six mile loop. (Abby was as disappointed as I was, but I can almost hear the collective, "George, you are finally getting it!" from the Harbor Web regulars.) The trail condition reports from the lucky skiers are very positive. We have had about a foot of new snow since Friday morning. Snowfall at the Road Commission's Delaware site totaled about 18 inches. We are now over the 100" inch mark for the season and more snow is in the forecast. Still way below normal, but the trend is least for those few of us in the pro-snow camp. The west wind has cleared the slush ice from the west bay of the harbor, but the continuing single digit temperature have given the water a molten look, as if it is about to return to solid state. It gets heavy as it cools, now barely responding to the swells moving in off the lake. Brief lake effect snow showers continue throughtout the day, usually so fine and light that they are almost imperceptible, but occasionally so intense that visability drops to near zero. The scene out my window is all muted white and soft grey, like an overexposed photograph. The flag flapping wildly atop my crooked flag pole and the red and blue lighthouse/sailboat whirligig twirling madly on the roadside fence are each strikingly colorful in this near monochrome setting.


The little clock down in the corner of the monitor says 4:35 AM, and it's Tuesday. It's dark and will be for another four hours, but evidence of the storm raging outside is readily apparent. Snow and blowing snow, and lots of it. The strong northwest wind is driving the fine lake effect snow through the not well weather stripped door sills. White streaks on the floor. The cold chimmey flue howls, driving the wonder dog to a sanctuary under a bed. I temper the flue with a roaring fire and Abby creeps sheepishly to the warming hearth. It's cold, about 4 degrees, and my weather station recorded a -39 degree windchill about an hour ago. In the light of the street light down the road, I can see the snow streaking off the lake and across the open harbor. This started at about nine last evening after a lull that lasted a couple of hours. Monday's wind was mostly southwest and brought with it a series of snow showers, some quite heavy, that lasted throughout the day. Like last Friday evening, at about six PM the wind suddenly ceased, and while the sky did not clear as it did on Friday, the snow stopped and it once again became very quiet. The only sound was the slap of heavy water swells on the ice building along the beach. I'd not ventured out all day; weather and wariness born of weariness cautioned against such foolishness. (Plus the fact that my road is snow plow all you suppose the driver read and was offended by my "more plowing in overtime hours" comment of a few days ago? More likely the drivers are just exhausted and with the restricted visability due to the continuing snow and blowing, any plowing would be dangerous and the benefits short lived.) In any event, when the evening pause occurred and with reports of a new system advancing across the lake, I quickly gathered in a new supply of firewood and retrived the mail. Abby bounded happily about in the fresh snow, certain we were about to embark on a long walk. Tempting for sure, especially in the peace and beauty of the weather lull, but I demurred, very suspect of how long it might be before the cold blasts with blinding snow would arrive. I retreated to the camp. Abby stood out front, obviously disappointed. The white gusts arrived quickly. Within minutes there was a frantic scratching on the door.


I ventured up the hill and down to Houghton in late morning to get some grub, do some medical stuff, and see if I could convince the MTU bookstore to carry our snow sticks (they agreed.) The wind was still blustery, and while the snow had abated a bit, the blowing snow was awesome. The ice shelf buildup over the past few days is impressive. Great Sand Bay, which only a week or so ago had waves breaking on the beach, is now frozen solid with ice extening out about a half mile. The drive through the road hugging pine and spruce forest along M-26 between Sand Bay and Eagle River was a picture post card of Keweenaw winter. Gorgeous! I crept along at about 20 mph just to fully absorb its beauty. The road, like all in the county, was well plowed. By the time I got to the US 41 Snow Thermometer, snow squalls had developed and I passed the icon without being able to see it. Mohawk is beginning to look like Mohawk usually looks in winter....massive snow walls along the road with only an occasional heavily bundled snow scooper or the plume of a snow blower to evidence any life in that little hamlet. I stop at the County shop to chat with the snowfall score keepers, who can't resist kidding me about my enthusiasm for snow. When I ask if they think I have a bad attitude, they say no, just weird! I note that things are not too bad at my Harbor camp because the strong lake wind usually blows much of the white stuff past my place into the harbor. They make a note to deliver a few truck loads to my door. I figure it's time to leave and after a stop at the post office to mail a couple of snow sticks and listen to winter mail delivery horror stories from Jim, our always friendly postmaster, I join a little caravan of pickups for the journey up the winding road to Calumet. Now the snow is really blowing. We pass down Calumet Avenue with only the dark form of the vehicle a car lenght ahead in view. I turn at the new stop light to head to Pamida, but pass by the little shopping center without seeing it or its road entries. I just keep following the dark shape ahead of me...we take a couple of rights and the next landmark I see is the Holiday station...we are on our way to Houghton! Visability improves a bit until we arrive at the top of the Quincy Hill. A total white out. I stop, not sure where I am in the road. Can't see a thing. A brief moment of better visability discloses that, fortunately, everyone else also stopped. A sander with lots of flashing lights pulls up. We all fall in behind this beacon of safe passage and work our way down the hill. The visability is good down by the Canal, and I complete my journey to MTU. The trip back with stops at Keweenaw Memorial and Fraki's is, by comparison, uneventful. I stop at the Cat Harbor Snow Stick Factory to report on the day's adventures and success at Tech, and arrive back at camp as night falls. A good Eagle Harbor winter day!


A neighbor's calendar is bleak. She carefully records "good weather" by placing a "happy face" sticker on any date the sun shines. Not many "happy faces" over the past few months. This despite the fact that her criteria for a "sunny day" is any day the sun shines for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes! Let's see, the almanac reports that the sun is someplace above the horizon for nine hours in mid January. That means that if the sun shines just 5% of the time, it's a sunny day. Even less as the days lengthen. Wow, how our standards have declined! Of couse, as even casual readers of this journal have noticed, my standard for a "good weather" day is equally obtuse. For me, it's any day there is measurable snow. Any amount will do, even a tenth of an inch...just so the County snowfall counters see some in their Delaware measuring box and log it in. Considering that the Keweenaw snowfall season is eight months, October through May, (doesn't leave much time for summer, does it?), and that on average we are blessed with about 240" of the white stuff, or abount an inch a day, my standard of at least 0.1 inch is pretty meager. Even at that, and except for the past week, my winter '97-'98 calendar of "happy faces" is equally blank. Unlike my neighbor, however, I'm now on a roll!


Ailing heart be damned! There was no way I was going to stay off the ski trail today. About 3 to 5 inches of light fluffy snow fell overnight, turning what was already a beautiful winter scene into something just too hard to resist experiencing first hand. The temperature was in the mid twenties, the wind almost at a standstill, and I'd heard that the trail was in good condition. So about mid day I dug my skis out of the closet, stuffed my pockets with favorite trail food (swiss cheese, hard bread and apples...I know, I should forget the cheese), and loaded an even more excited Abby into the van for the trip to the Eliza trailhead. I was hoping to engage in this little escapade undetected, but just as I approached trailhead I encountered friend Nancy, just finishing up her own jaunt through the woods. It was pretty obvious what I was up to, and sure enough upon returning later in the day I learned that the whole town knew that I was misbehaving. I took all the customary safeguards: parking my van at trailhead (so if you don't show up for a couple of days, friends will know where to start looking for you), had my celluar phone and a pocket full of emergency phone numbers, and, of course, I had the wonderdog with me. (Not sure about her value in an emergency. Early last year I fell on my back while out on the trail, hit my spine on a stump, knocking me out. When I regained consciousness several degrees of sun passage later, the wonderdog was snuggled peacefully alongside me. Touching, but wouldn't it have been better if she was back in town barking frantically? ) Words are inadequate to describe the beauty of the forest we encountered. It wasn't just physically beautiful, although that it truly was, but, for me, the beauty was in the the emotions generated by being immersed in an environment that spoke to and counseled the soul. Snow slept peacefully on everything, only occasionally stirring as a wisp of breeze gently nudged it from bough to ground, sometimes pleasantly cooling the back of my neck as the gentle snow shower settled in the collar of my parka. Snow asleep settles a restless mind as well. Trees stood silently, majestically, lovingly embracing their mantle of white. They spoke to me of permanence, of purpose. Tens of thousands ground cover branches, long shorn of their masking summer green, joyfully cradled the fluffy snow in their every nook, seemingly celebrating relief from their winter nakedness, and creating a playful scene of snow clusters held in suspension above the forest floor. Their happy mood and the frivolity of their collective tour de force brought a smile to my soul. The trail underfoot was soft, fluffy, welcoming. It beckoned me onward, promising me safe passage, assuring me that every trail twist negotiated and incline mounted would offer new vistas, new experiences, renewed hope and joy. A message for my life. The trail ended much too soon, not for the body which protested this test of its endurance, but for the soul, which was immensely enriched and strengthened by this adventure.


With each completed circle of the sun, we mere mortal riders of the earth planet mark another year in our chronicle of life. Birth dates mark the beginning point of our orbital journey and as we once again "return to go", we, or others, note and celebrate our success. In winter at Eagle Harbor, these celebrations are often at The Inn, in the company of neighbors gathered for the Friday evening "family dinner". This evening's January celebrants had completed many orbits. One of our group grappled with the reality of a half century of orbital travel, another joyfully contemplated the prize of Social Security elgibility, a third wasn't so sure about her recent reward...Medicare elgibility. Others marked their January passage dates with a "no big deal" shrug, the not unexpected demeanor of such veteran orbitors. Our half-centurion received the most attention, in part because her youthful vigor allowed us to raise the specter of "old age" without the risk of seeming serious or credible, and in part, for many of us, the advent of our second half century of orbital travel was a time of accelerating understanding and personal growth. An important milestone in our lives; one we knew would be in hers. An occasion truly worthy of note and celebration.


Light, at times almost transparent, snow continues to fall. Each trip to the woodpile leaves fresh tracks. Light but persistent southest winds have moved the ice away from the lake shoreline, leaving little flows to dot the waterscape. The center of the harbor is open once again. Slush ice wallows in the swells moving onto the west beach. Temperatures are moderate, just below freezing at mid-day, into the middle twenties at night. A good time to be out on the ski trail but the body signals caution. I'll try it tommorrow. Abby will not be with me. The wonderdog is lame, moping about the camp on three legs. Not sure what has happened to her. The neighbors suggest dog abuse, noting that upon our return from Thursday's escapade, Abby was so hobbled with ice incrustations in her fur and feathers, that I had to carry her into the house. At first I thought she had a tender paw, the result of frequent stops along the trail to chew off snow packed between paw pads. However, after a couple of hours of thawing on the fireplace hearth, her paws looked fine. Perhaps it's arthritis, not uncommon in springers ten years old. I'll have a vet look her over next week. In the meantime, she is restricted to camp. She won't like that, nor will I, but it's in, if I dare venture onto the trail with her, the neighbors, reluctantly tolerate of my own ill-advised shenanigans, will likely call out the sheriff to rescue the town's wonderdog from her abusing owner.

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