November 23, 2013
Many in Michigan are waking up to frigid temps, high wind and snow – the perfect conditions for lake effect snow. Meteorologist Robert J. Ruhf has an excellent article on Lake-Effect Precipitation in Michigan that explains lake effect snow and rain are common in Michigan, especially in late fall and early winter as cold polar air moves across the warmer Great Lakes.
The unfrozen waters are relatively warm when compared with the temperature of the wintertime air mass. Therefore, the temperature of the air that comes into contact with the water increases. The warmed air expands and become less dense, which causes it to rise. This is an “unstable” situation. As the air rises, the temperature decreases until it reaches the dew point, which is the temperature at which the air becomes saturated.. Ice crystals or water droplets will then begin to collect until the force of gravity pulls them down. The result is “lake-effect” precipitation. When the cP air mass is very cold, as is often the case between December and February, the precipitation falls as snow. During late autumn, however, the polar air mass may be warm enough for the precipitation to fall in the form of rain.
“Lake-effect” precipitation can cause substantial intensification of snowfall amounts in very narrow bands, often referred to as “snow belts,” along the leeward (downwind) shores of the Great Lakes. The prevailing wind direction in the Great Lakes region is westerly; therefore, most “lake-effect” precipitation events occur to the east of the lakes.
…An interesting feature of “lake-effect” is that the heaviest bands of snow do not usually occur along the immediate shoreline, but tend to fall several miles inland. Snowfall accumulations are enhanced inland because the air experiences more uplift when it is forced over hills and higher terrain.
Read on to learn lots more about lake effect snow in Michigan including four narrow bands - Keweenaw Peninsula, Leelanau Peninsula, the Thumb and the southwest Lower Peninsula - where geographic features and the shape of the shoreline contribute to more intense snowfall. Hang on to your hats – winter is here!
Need a winter background?
October 21, 2013
The Poe Reef Lighthouse page at Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light begins with the story of the vessel that preceded the lighthouse:
Poe Reef lies just eight feet beneath the water’s surface between Bois Blanc Island and the Lower Peninsula mainland, and as such has long represented a significant hazard to vessels making their way through the Straits between Lakes Michigan and Huron.
In the early 1890′s the Lighthouse Board faced a vexing problem. Increasing vessel traffic created a need to install navigational aids at a number of offshore shoals and reefs. With Congressional funds increasingly difficult to obtain, and the costs of offshore lighthouse construction prohibitively high, the Board determined that the use of lightships to mark such hazards would be both significantly more expeditious and cost effective.
Unable to convince Congress to free up the funds for these lightships, the Board took the chance of redirecting an existing $60,000 congressional appropriation for a lighthouse off Peninsula Point to the purchase of four lightships.
In 1892 two contracts totaling $55,960 were awarded to the Craig Shipbuilding Company in Toledo for the construction of four lightships. Designated as Lightships LV59, LV60, LV61 and LV62, all four vessels were built to similar specifications. Framed and planked of white oak they measured 87′ 2″ inches in length, 21′ 6″ inches in the beam, with a draft of 8 feet. In a cost-cutting effort, the vessels were un-powered, outfitted with only a small riding sail carried on a short after mast. Equipped with a cluster of three oil-burning lens lanterns hoisted on their foremasts, each was also equipped with 6″ steam whistles and hand-operated bells for fog use. Work was completed on the four vessels the following year, and after sea trials, all four were commissioned by the Board and placed into service, LV59 being assigned to Bar Point, LV60 to Eleven Foot Shoal, LV61 to Corsica Shoal and LV62 to Poe Reef.
With the words POE REEF brightly painted in white on her fire engine red hull, LV62 was towed to Poe Reef by the lighthouse tender Marigold, and anchored on station to begin her vigil on September 29, 1893. For the next seventeen years LV62 spent every shipping season faithfully guarding the shoal. With the end of each shipping season, one of the lighthouse tenders would make the rounds of all lightship stations in the Straits area, and tow them into Cheboygan harbor for winter lay-up. While in Cheboygan, necessary repairs and improvements would be made in preparation for the following season. At some time in March or April, the ice would break up sufficiently to allow the vessels to be towed back to their stations to stand guard for yet another season.
Read on for another shot of this vessel and for more about the lighthouse that replaced the lightship at Poe Reef. Also have a look at these photos of Light Vessel 96, which took over for LV 62 from 1915-1920 at Poe Reef.
October 19, 2013
EDIT: WOW!! Check out the video that Tudor did at Forty Mile Point, The Grand Hotel and Fort Mackinac!
Wikipedia’s U.S. Lighthouses entry says that the United States has had approximately a thousand lights as well as light towers, range lights, and pier head lights. With the second longest coastline in the U.S. and a history of vibrant trade across the Great Lakes, it makes sense that Michigan has the most lights of any state with over 150 past and present lights (166 by their count and as many as 247 by some). While the current number varies depending on who you talk to, 115 seems to be the accepted number.
Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light is a fabulous guide to the lighthouses of the Great Lakes and definitely a resource to review before you visit a Michigan lighthouse. The Forty Mile Point Light entry in explains:
While the Presque Isle Peninsula had been lighted since 1840, and the entrance to the Cheboygan River fifty miles to the north had been lighted since 1851, the New Presque Isle Light’s range of visibility of 19 miles and the Cheboygan Light’s visible range of 13 miles left an unlighted 18 mile intervening stretch of coastline along which mariners were forced to navigate blind. In it’s annual report for fiscal 1890, the Board recommended that $25,000 be appropriated for the construction of a new light and fog signal at Forty Mile Point near Hammond’s Bay, at the approximate mid point between the two lights.
(the project languished for nearly 60 years until…)
Eleventh District Engineer Major Milton B. Adams selected and surveyed the site for the new Light. With an offer of $200 for the property accepted by the owner, Adams approved the plans and specifications for the station in February 1896. Contracts for the ironwork for the lantern, gallery, boilers and fog whistles were awarded soon thereafter, and with receipt of the materials at the Detroit depot, were loaded aboard the lighthouse tender AMARANTH and delivered to the site on July 5, 1896. Work at the site began with the construction of a wood-framed building, which would be used by the work crew as a temporary dwelling during construction, and converted into a barn for the keeper’s horses on the completion of the work.
Adams’ plan for the main lighthouse structure was a virtual duplicate of that simultaneously under construction at Big Bay Point on Lake Superior. Consisting of a duplex dwelling with a tower incorporated into the center of one side-wall, the structure stood 35 feet by 57 feet in plan. Erected on a 20″ thick cut limestone foundation, the brick walls featured double walls with an air space between to provide insulation. The integrated tower stood twelve feet in plan, and fifty-two feet in height. The apartments on each side of the dwelling were exact mirrored duplicates and were set-up to afford complete privacy. Each apartment featured its own main entry, cellar, kitchen, parlor, tower entry door and stairway to the bedrooms on the second floor. Indicative of Adam’s thoughtfulness in designing the structure, each of the stairways incorporated a skylight in its ceiling through which the lantern could be observed, thereby allowing both keeper and his assistant to verify the correct operation of the light from within the warmth of their apartment without having to leave the building or climb to the top of the tower itself to see the light. The brick tower was capped by a square gallery with iron safety railing, and a prefabricated octagonal cast iron lantern erected at its center.
Read on for more at Seeing the Light and also check out this shot of the construction crew posing in front of the lighthouse in 1896. Forty Mile Point Light is now a museum, click here to visit their website for more including directions.
Many more Michigan lighthouses on Michigan in Pictures.
September 26, 2013
September 25, 2013
Myths and Legends of our Own Land by Charles M. Skinner (1896) has some incredible stories from Michigan’s first people. Here’s The Sky Walker of Huron:
Here is the myth of Endymion and Diana, as told on the shores of Saginaw Bay, in Michigan, by Indians who never heard of Greeks. Cloud Catcher, a handsome youth of the Ojibways, offended his family by refusing to fast during the ceremony of his coming of age, and was put out of the paternal wigwam. It was so fine a night that the sky served him as well as a roof, and he had a boy’s confidence in his ability to make a living, and something of fame and fortune, maybe. He dropped upon a tuft of moss to plan for his future, and drowsily noted the rising of the moon, in which he seemed to see a face. On awaking he found that it was not day, yet the darkness was half dispelled by light that rayed from a figure near him—the form of a lovely woman.
“Cloud Catcher, I have come for you,” she said. And as she turned away he felt impelled to rise and follow. But, instead of walking, she began to move into the air with the flight of an eagle, and, endowed with a new power, he too ascended beside her. The earth was dim and vast below, stars blazed as they drew near them, yet the radiance of the woman seemed to dull their glory. Presently they passed through a gate of clouds and stood on a beautiful plain, with crystal ponds and brooks watering noble trees and leagues of flowery meadow; birds of brightest colors darted here and there, singing like flutes; the very stones were agate, jasper, and chalcedony. An immense lodge stood on the plain, and within were embroideries and ornaments, couches of rich furs, pipes and arms cut from jasper and tipped with silver. While the young man was gazing around him with delight, the brother of his guide appeared and reproved her, advising her to send the young man back to earth at once, but, as she flatly refused to do so, he gave a pipe and bow and arrows to Cloud Catcher, as a token of his consent to their marriage, and wished them happiness, which, in fact, they had.
This brother, who was commanding, tall, and so dazzling in his gold and silver ornaments that one could hardly look upon him, was abroad all day, while his sister was absent for a part of the night. He permitted Cloud Catcher to go with him on one of his daily walks, and as they crossed the lovely Sky Land they glanced down through open valley bottoms on the green earth below. The rapid pace they struck gave to Cloud Catcher an appetite and he asked if there were no game. “Patience,” counselled his companion. On arriving at a spot where a large hole had been broken through the sky they reclined on mats, and the tall man loosing one of his silver ornaments flung it into a group of children playing before a lodge. One of the little ones fell and was carried within, amid lamentations. Then the villagers left their sports and labors and looked up at the sky. The tall man cried, in a voice of thunder, “Offer a sacrifice and the child shall be well again.” A white dog was killed, roasted, and in a twinkling it shot up to the feet of Cloud Catcher, who, being empty, attacked it voraciously.
Many such walks and feasts came after, and the sights of earth and taste of meat filled the mortal with a longing to see his people again. He told his wife that he wanted to go back. She consented, after a time, saying, “Since you are better pleased with the cares, the ills, the labor, and the poverty of the world than with the comfort and abundance of Sky Land, you may return; but remember you are still my husband, and beware how you venture to take an earthly maiden for a wife.”
She arose lightly, clasped Cloud Catcher by the wrist, and began to move with him through the air. The motion lulled him and he fell asleep, waking at the door of his father’s lodge. His relatives gathered and gave him welcome, and he learned that he had been in the sky for a year. He took the privations of a hunter’s and warrior’s life less kindly than he thought to, and after a time he enlivened its monotony by taking to wife a bright-eyed girl of his tribe. In four days she was dead. The lesson was unheeded and he married again. Shortly after, he stepped from his lodge one evening and never came back. The woods were filled with a strange radiance on that night, and it is asserted that Cloud Catcher was taken back to the lodge of the Sun and Moon, and is now content to live in heaven.
More Lake Huron on Michigan in Pictures.
September 19, 2013
The Michigan DNR says that the common tern (Sterna hirundo) is a small colonial waterbird and one of four breeding species of terns in Michigan (Caspian, black, common, and Forster’s terns):
Common terns are white with a black cap, and pale gray back and wings. Their bill is red orange with a black tip. The tail is deeply forked and dark along the outer edges. Immature common terns and adults in their winter plumage have only a partial black cap. It can be distinguished from its close relative the gull by a smaller body size and longer wings. The common tern’s call is a rolling ter-arr and rapid kip-kip-kip.
Common terns are frequently seen hovering in the air over a school of fish. With a sudden plunge downward into the water, they seize fish with their bills. Sometimes they will dive entirely below the surface of the water. Terns eat small fish such as shiners, chubs, and other minnows. They will also eat crustaceans and occasionally, insects such as dragonfly nymphs.
Their winter migration takes these birds to the Atlantic coastal areas in Florida, the Caribbean, and South America. They return to their nesting sites in early spring.
Arriving on their breeding grounds in May, common terns nest in colonies of 10 to 1,000 breeding pairs. They prefer sandy, well drained areas away from mammalian predators and human disturbances. Currently, common terns are using natural and human made islands in the Great Lakes with a few nesting on inland lakes. Common terns construct their nests by creating a depression in the sand with their feet, smoothing and shaping it by sifting in it and turning their bodies. Egg laying and incubation lasts until late June or early July. Both adults take turns sitting on the nest. The adults defend the eggs and young fiercely, diving at intruders, and even striking them with their bills.
Once numbering over 6,000 breeding pairs in Michigan, common terns were found on every Great Lakes shore. Data from 1992 suggest that the population has decreased to an estimated 1,400 breeding pairs. Several factors have contributed to this decline including loss of habitat, competition with gulls, predation, and effects of contaminants. As a result of these factors, the common tern was officially listed in Michigan as a “threatened species in 1978 and has recently undergone a status assessment by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Great Lakes for possible listing as Federally endangered.
Many more Michigan birds on Michigan in Pictures.
September 11, 2013
Hurricanes in Michigan?? from NOAA looks at several hurricane force storms and has this to say about “Hurricane Huron”:
While this storm was not from remnants of a tropical system, its development over Lake Huron had many uncanny likenesses to tropical systems…
The first likeness was its timing, forming over the Great Lakes right at the height of the typical hurricane season, September 11-15th, 1996. What started as a typical core-cold 500 MB low pressure system evolved into a warm-core system as it settled over the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes, in particular, Lake Huron. The low pressure system actually had moved past Lake Huron but then retrograded, or was “drawn back”, to the relatively warm waters of Lake Huron. (Similar to the tropics, the Great Lakes usually reach their warmest water temperatures late August into mid September.) The storm then deepened and intensified at the lower levels of the atmosphere compared to aloft, typical of a warm-core low. It is believed that the warm waters of Lake Huron and associated low level instability over the lake were, to a large extent, the major contributing factors in this storm’s evolution. The storm went on to form a broad cyclonic circulation, including the “spiral bands and eye”, typically seen in hurricanes! At one point, the cyclone produced tropical storm force winds (39 – 73 mph) and some of the spiral bands even had rainfall exceeding 10 cm (better than four inches), causing some flooding.
This “Hurroncane” reached its maximum intensity during the day on September 14th, when a central pressure of 29.34 inches (993 MB) was recorded in the late morning by a Lake Huron buoy that fortunately was positioned, at one point, in the “eye”. By 2 PM, that “eye” measured close to 20 miles across and had a ring of tall convective clouds surrounding it, strongly resembling that of an “eye wall”. The convective showers encircled the “eye” well out over 300 miles.
You can read on for more including a satellite photo of the distinctive storm, check out Wikipedia’s entry on the 1996 Lake Huron cyclone, or go straight to the very detailed academic paper on Hurricane Huron that this article draws from.
More hurricane-like weather on Michigan in Pictures.
August 20, 2013
August 15, 2013
I was surprised to learn that I haven’t posted anything about Sugar Loaf on Mackinac Island. Here’s a summary with help from Wikipedia’s entry for Sugar Loaf Rock, the Mackinac State Historic Parks geology page and some other sources I’ve linked to.
Located not far from the shoreline on the east side of Mackinac Island, Sugar Loaf is a 75′ breccia limestone stack. Thousands of years ago Lake Algonquin covered all but the center of Mackinac Island. When it receded, this tower of rock remained. The people of the region packed maple sugar into cone-shaped baskets of birchbark, and Sugar Loaf Rock was named for its resemblance to one of these cones.
Sugar Loaf was said by some to be the home of Gitchi Manitou, while another tale explains that the rock was the final form taken by a man who asked for immortality and received it, albiet not as he expected. A distinct profile remains in the limestone face of Sugar Loaf Rock. The rock was also used as a site of ritual burials. In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and his friend Gustave de Beaumont visited Mackinac Island. De Beaumont reported that the rock was filled with “crevices and faults where the Indians sometimes deposed the bones of the dead.” A natural cave passes through Sugar Loaf from side to side, but it’s too small for any but children.
More from Mackinac on Michigan in Pictures!
July 25, 2013
“These are not lakes, these are the world’s eighth seas, and her bottom is littered with the wreckage of over six thousand ships.”
~The Three Sisters, Song of the Lakes
This gorgeous shot of the St. Joseph Pier Lighthouses demonstrates the incredible power of Great Lakes waves. I live in Traverse City, and this summer it feels like Lake Michigan has claimed the lives of more people than normal. Whether or not that’s true (it’s not), I thought this photo offered the perfect opportunity to share some tips and tools for staying safe on Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Superior and Lake Erie!
- Thinking of any of the Great Lakes as anything like any lake you’re familiar with is a mistake. They are freshwater seas that can pack incredible power. They are stronger than you and can end your life in an instant if you don’t respect them.
- The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is a nonprofit dedicated to drowning prevention that keeps track of drowning statistics: 74 in 2010, 87 in 2011, 101 in 2012 and 39 so far in 2013. (you can also keep up with them on Facebook)
- Life jackets can save your life. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that 90% of the people who drown in a boating or water accidents would survive with a life jacket.
- Cold kills! Hypothermia is a danger all year round on the Great Lakes. Click that link for tips on how to stay alive if you do end up in the water.
- Rip Currents (sometimes called “undertow” or “rip tide”) are a big danger on Michigan beaches accounting for the majority of drownings. Michigan is 4th in rip current related fatalities behind Florida, California, and North Carolina – we have “ocean force” rip currents. Learn how to beat them in this video.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers comprehensive Great Lakes marine forecasts.
- The MyBeachCast smarthphone app can predict waves and warn you of hazardous conditions.
- Do you have more tips? Share them in the comments!
Catch a Michigan wave on Michigan in Pictures!