December 4, 2013
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 7, 2013
100 years ago today the most devastating storm in Great Lakes history began. It raged across the Great Lakes from November 7-10, 1913. As NOAA’s commemorative website explains:
In November of 1913 the Great Lakes were struck by a massive storm system combining whiteout blizzard conditions and hurricane force winds. The storm lasted for four days, during which the region endured 90 mile per hour winds and waves reaching 35 feet in height. With only basic technology available, shipping communication and weather prediction systems were not prepared for a storm of such devastating force. When the skies finally cleared, the Great Lakes had seen a dozen major shipwrecks, an estimated 250 lives lost, and more than $5 million in damages (the equivalent of more than $117 million today).
Nicknamed the “White Hurricane” and the ‘Freshwater Fury” the 1913 storm remains the most devastating natural disaster to ever strike the Great Lakes. One hundred years later, NOAA commemorates the Storm of 1913 not only for the pivotal role it plays in the history of the Great Lakes but also for its enduring influence. Modern systems of shipping communication, weather prediction, and storm preparedness have all been fundamentally shaped by the events of November 1913.
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 7, 2013
Michigan Radio’s Stateside program interviewed Dr. Larissa Larsen of the Urban and Regional Planning Program at the University of Michigan about how our warming climate & heavier rains impacts how we plan & manage cities. It’s an interesting concept and another financial eventuality we’ll need to include in our long-term planning … assuming we ever do any of that.
More weather 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.
One of my favorite photoblogs is the Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD), and sometimes you’ll see photos from Michigan in Pictures there and vice versa. The EPOD is produced by the NASA Earth Sciences Division, and every day their stalwart blogger Jim Foster works with photographers all over the planet to highlight amazing things. In June the EPOD posted a cool photo of a roll cloud over Calgary, explaining:
Roll clouds are a type of arcus cloud often associated with turbulent weather. As is the case here, they sometimes look like a horizontal tornado. Although these cylindrically shaped clouds look quite fierce and may be observed to roll about their horizontal axis, they don’t usually generate dangerous winds. Roll clouds are typically found behind outflow boundaries but unlike shelf clouds are detached from any close-by cumulonimbus cloud.
More wild Michigan weather 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!