December 7, 2013
Waaaay back when I started out on the capital “I” Internet with an online publication called the Northern Michigan Journal. For over five years I edited NMJ, producing around 4 issues a year that featured some interesting work from a wide range of writers & artists.
Two of these were my friends Jerry Dennis and Glenn Wolff, a writer/artist duo who collaborated on several books. Their first was called It’s Raining Frogs & Fishes: Four Seasons of Natural Phenomena and Oddities of the Sky, a fascinating romp through the oddities and beauties of the natural world through Jerry’s captivating prose and Glenn’s engaging drawings. You can click that link to learn more about the book from Jerry’s website. Trust me, it’s the perfect gift for the nature lover or scientist in your life!
There is more to the birth of a snowflake than Aristotle’s assertion that “when a cloud freezes there is snow.” Snow is not merely frozen rain. Rain occasionally freezes, falling to the ground as sleet or freezing rain, but snow originates independent of atmospheric drops of water. Individual ice crystals for high in the atmosphere when water vapor freezes around dust or other particulates. Without particles to serve as condensation nuclei, water vapor can be cooled to -40 degrees Fahrenheit before freezing occurs. A supercooled cloud of this sort seeded with a few particles often escalates into a snowstorm. The individual crystals collect additional molecules of water vapor one at a time, building on one another symmetrically in a rapidly growing, widening circle. Temperature, wind, humidity, and even barometric pressure will determine the growth and ultimate form of the crystal. Large and elaborate crystals for at higher temperatures and humidity while, while the small, basic crystals such as those common in polar regions form when temperature and humidity are very low. As the crystals fall they bump against each other, breaking off pieces of ice that in turn serve as nuclei for new crystals. As they pass through warmer layers of air they adhere to one another, congregating into snowflakes that may contain a thousand or more crystals.
Snowflakes, then, are aggregates of snow crystals. When the temperature is near or slightly above freezing, snowflakes become wet, adhere to other flakes, and grow to two or three inches in diameter. On very rare occasions, they can grow larger yet. According to a report in a 1915 issue of Monthly Weather Review, a snowfall on January 28, 1887 dropped flakes “larger than milk pans,” measuring fifteen inches in diameter by eight inches thick across several square miles near Fort Keogh, Montana.
Only when the temperature remains consistently below freezing will complete, individual crystals fall to the ground. If the temperature of the cloud they form in and the air they descend through is warmer than 27 degrees Fahrenheit, the crystals tend to be flat and hexagonal. Between 27 and 23 degrees, they tend to be needle-shaped. Between 23 and 18 they are likely to be hollow and columnar, with prismatic sides. At temperatures below 18 they can be columnar, hexagonal, or fernlike. Virtually all have six sides. That hexagonal tendency is something of a mystery, although some scientists suggest it is produced by electrical charges in the crystals, while others say it is basic to the molecular structure of water molecules. The atoms in a molecule of H20 are arranged, in physicist Hans C. von Baeyer’s graphic description, “with two little hydrogens stuck onto a big oxygen like ears on a Mickey Mouse’s head.” Scientists like von Baeyer believe that the angle at which the hydrogen molecules protrude from the oxygen atom–about 120 degrees–causes snow crystals to grow to a six-pointed symmetry that repeats the molecular structure of water.
Read on for much more including whether or not two snow crystals are alike, heavy snowfalls and snow words & myths.
December 5, 2013
The Weather Notebook has this to say about Ice Volcanoes:
Ice volcanoes can form during winter on the Great Lakes. They are not lava-spewing mountains of ice, but water-spouting ice cones.
As winter ice begins to build along the shores of large lakes such as Lake Superior, it is jostled, broken, and shifted by the winds and wave motions on the waters. When winds blow onshore, they can build an ice shelf, a jumble of ice chunks that anchors on the shore but extends some distance back into the water. Amongst the numerous ice blocks comprising a shelf, many open tunnels lead back to the lake waters.
To build a good ice volcano cone, the surface air temperature must be several degrees below freezing and lake waves should be several feet high and breaking onshore. As the waves strike the edge of the ice shelf, pulses of wave energy flow beneath the ice. Upon reaching the open end of a tunnel, the wave forces water to erupt out through the ice. If the hole has been covered with snow, the eruption may spray snow outward like a volcanic gas cloud.
As the ejected water falls back onto the ice, it quickly freezes and begins the formation of an ice cone, a process very similar to the building of a lava cone surrounding a geologic volcanic vent. A study of ice volcanoes on Lake Superior’s southern shore by students from Michigan Tech measured ice cones ranging from three to 25 feet in height.
Like rock volcanoes, ice volcano vents can heal over and become dormant during periods of low wave action. They lie in wait for a strong wave surge to awaken them back to explosive activity.
More icy goodness on Michigan in Pictures.
December 4, 2013
November 27, 2013
While the blizzardy blowing going on this morning in northern Michigan and the U.P. isn’t the best for “over the rivering”, it is ensuring that Many of Michigan’s ski resorts get to enjoy their earliest opening date in tears with plenty of white gold!
If you’re looking to check out Michigan’s ski scene, head over to goskimichigan.com from the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. They have updates from Michigan ski resorts on snow conditions & planned opening dates. Their Discover Michigan Skiing program will give you a beginner lesson, ski or snowboard rental equipment and a beginner-area ski lift pass or cross-country trail pass at 23 Michigan ski facilities! It’s available through January 31 and costs just $20 for cross-country skiing, $30 for downhill skiing and $40 for snowboarding. While you’re there, check Cold Is Cool – a promotion that gives every Michigan 4th Grader FREE skiing at participating Michigan resorts.
This photo from yesterday (Nov 26, 2013) shows Crystal Mountain’s new PistenBully Winch Cat roaring up the ski hill “Buck” – they open for skiing and riding Thanksgiving Day! Stay up to date with their ski & snow report.
More Michigan skiing on Michigan in Pictures!
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?
November 9, 2013
In Farmers’ Almanac prediction: valid winter forecast or ‘darts at a dartboard’?, the Great Lakes Echo explores the accuracy of the venerable Farmers’ Almanac, writing:
…this year, like many before, bloggers, newspapers and local TV stations alike are abuzz with the Almanac’s prediction for winter 2014 – particularly a notably bitter, cold, precipitous winter for the Midwest and most of the Great Lakes region.
“This winter is shaping up to be a rough one,” the almanac reports.
So how much weight does this prediction hold?
“The value of the Farmers’ Almanac in terms of weather forecasting is no better than a comic book,” says Detroit-based meteorologist Paul Gross. “If we knew the forecast a year in advance, we’d be utilizing that knowledge by now.”
The Almanac, which famously keeps its weather predicting methods rather hush-hush, claims to be 80 percent accurate – although the lack of concrete evidence proving that claim draws some skepticism.
The Almanac also makes a questionable remark about the relationship between global warming and a winter with heavy snow.
“Brrrrr!” says the excerpt. “It looks like global warming will soon be taking a vacation to make room for Old Man Winter.”
Heavy snow in winter means quite the opposite in regards to global warming, says Gross. “What people don’t understand is that global warming means that more ocean water is evaporated into the atmosphere,” he said. “And that water vapor in the atmosphere is what becomes available to storms to create precipitation.”
Global warming isn’t “taking a vacation” to make way for the heavy precipitation, Gross said. Rather, a warming climate cause increased precipitation. “It’s shocking, but four of Detroit’s top 10 snowiest winters in history have occurred since 2002,” he said.
They add that the Almanac’s prediction does appear to be somewhat in line with predictions like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration’s. Read on for more at the Echo.
More weather on Michigan in Pictures.
November 1, 2013
“Autumn is the greatest reminder: It reminds us how dreamlike beauties our earth has and it reminds us how all these beautiful dreams can easily vanish!”
~Mehmet Murat ildan
Michigan has already seen its first snows of the winter, and we all know it won’t be long before that dusting of snow settles in. I’m not saying that to depress anyone – just to remind you to take a moment to soak up the last of the fall color wherever you can find it this weekend!
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.
August 12, 2013
We interrupt this summer to check in with winter. James writes:
I’ve been visiting Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes all my life but it wasn’t until I was an adult photographer that I hazarded a trip up to our northern Michigan National Lakeshore landmark in the depths of Winter. I was confident it would be awesome and I wasn’t disappointed. Driving north on Route 22 from the little town of Empire I turned left onto South Dune Highway and soon could see Glen Lake to my right and Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes to my left. The Visitors Bureau is officially closed in Winter and so I parked my Cherokee at the side of the road and proceeded on foot along Hunter Road to the base of the mountainous dunes. Ahead of me was the leeward side of the dunes and as such they are steep. Part way up I saw an ominous sign that read “Avalanches Stay Off”. I noticed that there were other brave souls already on the dunes and so I figured it was safe to climb.
With Linhof camera on Gitzo tripod and a 35 pound Domke camera bag the climb up the dune was a challenge. Flat, and with small undulating hills punctuated by the occasional tuft of intrepid dune grass, the top of the dunes resemble the high desert plains of the southwest. As if trying to brave the frigid gale winds of nearby Lake Michigan, the sandy hills had solidified into rows of spiny ridges with the top of the hill resembling a marble cake with layer upon layer of sand and ice. In the distance the luminous midday sun lit a gently sloping bank upon which a barren stand of trees proudly stood. I moved my gloveless hands frantically over tilt and swing controls and finally turned the aperture ring to F22. The wind chill was well below zero. I snapped off but two 4 X 5 exposures and quickly donned my Baxter gloves to venture off in search of another Sleeping Bear winterscape.