Wildfire in the Sky

Sleeping Bear Bay Northern Lights, photo by Kenneth Snyder

Here’s a feature via Leelanau.com

A Conflagration of Storms from his online book The 23rd Cycle, Dr. Sten Odenwald tells of the evening of March 13, 1989 when a massive wave of solar energy struck our atmosphere, creating one of the most impressive northern lights displays of the modern era.

Alaskan and Scandinavian observers were treated to a spectacular auroral display that night. Intense colors from the rare Great Aurora painted the skies around the world in vivid shapes that moved like legendary dragons. Ghostly celestial armies battled from sunset to midnight. Newspapers that reported this event considered the aurora, itself, to be the most newsworthy aspect of the storm. Seen as far south as Florida and Cuba, the vast majority of people in the Northern Hemisphere had never seen such a spectacle. Some even worried that a nuclear first-strike might be in progress.

Luke Pontin, a charter boat operator in the Florida Keys, described the colors in reddish hues as they reflected from the warm Caribbean waters. In Salt Lake City, Raymond Niesporek nearly lost his fish while starring transfixed at the northern display. He had no idea what it was until he returned home and heard about the rare aurora over Utah from the evening news. Although most of the Midwest was clouded over, in Austin Texas, Meteorologist Rich Knight at KXAN had to deal with hundreds of callers asking about what they were seeing. The first thing on many people’s mind was the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS29) which had been launched on March 13 at 9:57 AM. Had it exploded? Was it coming apart and raining down over the Earth? Millions marveled at the beautiful celestial spectacle, and solar physicists delighted in the new data it brought to them, but many more were not so happy about it.

Silently, the storm had impacted the magnetic field of the Earth and caused a powerful jet stream of current to flow 1000 miles above the ground. Like a drunken serpent, its coils gyrated and swooped downwards in latitude, deep into North America. As midnight came and went, invisible electromagnetic forces were staging their own pitched battle in a vast arena bounded by the sky above and the rocky subterranean reaches of the Earth. A river of charged particles and electrons in the ionosphere flowed from west to east, inducing powerful electrical currents in the ground that surged into many natural nooks and crannies. There, beneath the surface, natural rock resistance murdered them quietly in the night. Nature has its own effective defenses for these currents, but human technology was not so fortunate on this particular night. The currents eventually found harbor in the electrical systems of Great Britain, the United States and Canada.

Read on for much more about how our electrical grid can be brought to its knees by the power behind the beauty of the northern lights and get much more in the 23rd Cycle.

Kenneth took this photo back in July of 2012. See more great pics in his Sleeping Bear Dunes album & also check out many more northern lights photos in the Leelanau.com group on Flickr!

2019’s Biggest Supermoon Flies Tonight!

Super Moon Muskegon Michigan, photo by The Shutter Affair

EarthSky, which by the way is a fantastic website for anyone who wants to get more out of the night sky that’s in great need of your support, has this to say about tonight’s supermoon, which will be the largest of 2019:

This year’s February presents the biggest full moon supermoon of 2019. From around the world, the moon will look plenty full to the eye on both February 18 and February 19 as it parades across the nighttime sky. It reaches the crest of its full phase on February 19 for much of the world. What’s a supermoon? It’s a popularized term for what astronomers call a perigean full moon. In other words, it’s a full moon near perigee, or closest to Earth for this month. This February 2019 full moon reaches its exact full phase closer to the time of perigee than any other full moon this year. Hence the year’s closest supermoon.

Will you be able to discern with your eye that this full moon is larger than an ordinary full moon? Experienced observers say they can do it, but – for most of us – the difference is too small for the eye to notice.

…here are other factors that make a supermoon special. For example, if you look outside tonight – assuming your sky is clear – you might be able to discern with your eye that the landscape is more brightly lit than usual by moonlight. Supermoons are substantially brighter than ordinary full moons.

Also, the moon’s gravity affects earthly tides, and a supermoon – full moon closest to Earth – pulls harder on Earth’s oceans than an ordinary full moon. That’s why supermoons create higher-than usual tides, which tend to come a day or two after the full moon.

By the way, that bright star accompanying the February supermoon is none other than Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion.

More at EarthSky & definitely consider helping to support EarthSky at helpsupportearthsky.org!

Julia took this photo of December of 2017 in Muskegon, Michigan. View it bigger, see more in her Lighthouse photo album, and also on her blog!

Much more about the Moon and about supermoons on Michigan in Pictures!

Blue Ice at Bay City

Bay City Blue Ice, photo by Great Lakes Drone Works

Great Lakes Drone Works captured some awesome shots from the ice on Saginaw Bay near Bay City. They write:

We made our way out to Bay City State Park to capture some images of these huge chunks of ice. At first we were hoping drone photos would be the way to go but after walking around and getting up close, it was clear that ground photography was the better option.
Blue ice occurs when weather conditions — such as a lack of high winds — allow water to freeze slowly and evenly, resulting in ice composed of large crystals (unlike snow, which is formed quickly and made up of small crystals).

When light hits these big ice crystals, it can travel deep into the structures (compare this to snow, wherein light hits a sharp edge and reflects off of it right away, resulting in blinding white). When the light travels deeper into slowly formed ice, some of the red wavelengths of sunlight — which is the longest wavelength of visible light — get absorbed into the ice structure.

The blue, which is the shortest wavelength of visible light, bounces back out, meet our eyes, and results in a deep aqua color.

Head over to their Facebook for more shots and get lots more icy goodness at the ice tag on Michigan in Pictures!

Firing up the Polar Vortex Ice Cave Hype Machine

Ice Cave Evening, photo by Mark Miller

via leelanau.com who write:

It’s a frosty 3 degrees in Leland with winds whipping powdery snow around and more single digits & high winds driving wind chills far below zero coming over the next couple of days. That’s not optimal for driving, and schools across the county are cancelled. It could, however, bring to life ice formations & caves on Leelanau’s western shore like we’ve seen several times in recent years.

They’ve got past ice cave articles and will be posting updates right here! The Freep reports that Michigan is bracing for potentially record-breaking cold this week:

A polar vortex is forecast to batter the Great Lakes and Midwest regions Tuesday through Thursday, with the lowest temperatures set to occur Wednesday. Some areas of Lower Michigan could face wind chills as low as 45 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service.

That would mark the most bitter cold in years for the region.

…The polar vortex is the large area of cold air and low pressure near each of the Earth’s poles. The air flows counter-clockwise near each of the poles, hence “vortex.”

“Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream,” the NWS explains.

Mark took this back in Mark of 2014. View the photo bigger and see more awesome shots in his Northern Michigan winters photo album.

Happy New Year 2019!!

Surfing the Great Lakes, photo by Paulh192

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
– Neil Gaiman
 
Live, try, learn, grow & push yourself in 2019. Happy New Year everyone and for the Fun Police, don’t try surfing in the winter if you don’t know how to surf in the summer. ;)
 
Paul took this shot a surfer contemplating some mountainous waves on Lake Michigan on the pier in Grand Haven, Michigan during an unusually violent November storm. What looks like the shoreline on the upper right is actually another huge wave!
 
See Paul’s photo on Flickr and get lots more on his Flickr page!

A Long Way Down … and Happy Birthday Mark!

A Long Way Down, photo by Mark Smith

This stunning shot from the Leelanau Conservancy​’s Clay Cliffs Natural Area was taken by Mark Smith.

He’s been a big contributor of photos to Michigan in Pictures​ and we’re wishing him a very happy birthday today and hoping Santa brings him all the photography gear his heart desires!!

See some of Mark’s best on Michigan in Pictures.

Check this out background bigtacular and see tons more shots by Mark on Flickr!

Pipeline deal reached … but what has changed?

Leaving the Pipeline

Leaving the Island, photo by Robert F. Carter

EDITOR’S NOTE: I agree with the position of Sean McBrearty of Clean Water Action – this “plan” to fix a multi-billion dollar threat to the economic engine of the Great Lakes within seven to ten YEARS is wildly unacceptable. We don’t need the pittance we receive from this pipeline in exchange for the unimaginable risk to the lives & livelihoods of all of us in the Great Lakes State.

In Michigan, company reach oil pipeline deal by Associated Press writer John Flesher writes (in part):

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge have agreed to replace twin 65-year-old crude oil pipes in a channel linking two of the Great Lakes with another that would run through a tunnel far below the lake bed, officials told The Associated Press.

The plan calls for drilling an opening for the new pipeline through bedrock at depths that could exceed 100 feet (30 meters) beneath the Straits of Mackinac, a more than 4-mile-wide (6.4-kilometer) waterway where Lakes Huron and Michigan converge, officials told the AP prior to an announcement scheduled for Wednesday. The massive engineering project is expected to take seven to 10 years to complete (my emphasis), at a cost of $350 million to $500 million — all of which the company would pay.

In the meantime, about 23 million gallons (87 million liters) of oil and natural gas liquids used to make propane would continue moving daily through the twin lines at the bottom of the straits. They are part of Enbridge’s Line 5, which extends 645 miles (1,038 kilometers) from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, crossing large areas of northern Michigan.

…Environmental groups promised a fight as rumors of the agreement spread in recent days. They contend the only safe course is to reroute Enbridge’s oil away from the straits.

“Michigan gets nothing in this deal except a continued unacceptable risk to our water, while Enbridge continues to rake in massive profits and use our state as a shortcut for Canadian oil,” Sean McBrearty of Clean Water Action said during a Lansing rally this week.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the next administration would have legal authority to undo the agreement. Michigan owns the straits bottomlands and granted Enbridge an easement when the pipes were laid in 1953. Creagh said any effort to revoke it would trigger a lengthy and expensive court battle.

Read on for more and follow John Flesher on Twitter @johnflesher.

View Robert’s photo bigger and see more in his My Neighborhood album.