Let’s pretend that you’re driving along a back-country road in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s early December. It’s–of course–snowing.
You ponder the beauty of snow. You ponder the possible treachery of snow.
You suddenly remember a phrase that a friend used last winter. “The snow that flies today slept last night in Lake Superior.”
Let’s get down to Snow Basics 101. This is what every Yooper (Upper Peninsula shoveler or snow plower) learns early.
There are two ways in which we get our snow. Please find your notebook and pen. There will be a quiz.
The first way we get snow is a system roars in from–usually–the west. Sometimes it barrels in from another direction (like the deep south or east or north) surprising us. But usually it arrives from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Sometimes it tiptoes in with a few flakes. It is a “weather system” and the snow comes from elsewhere.
However, those of us who live along the Great Lakes are prone to a variety of snow called Lake Effect Snow. Everyone knows what lake effect snow is?
Here is Wikipedia’s wise explanation, pasted and copied just for inquiring minds:
Lake-effect snow is produced in the winter when cold winds move across long expanses of warmer lake water, providing energy and picking up water vapor which freezes and is deposited on the leeward shores. The same effect over bodies of salt water is called ocean effect snow, sea effect snow, or even bay effect snow. The effect is enhanced when the moving air mass is uplifted by the orographic effect of higher elevations on the downwind shores. This uplifting can produce narrow but very intense bands of precipitation, which deposit at a rate of many inches of snow each hour, often resulting in copious snowfall totals. The areas affected by lake-effect snow are called snowbelts. This effect occurs in many locations throughout the world but is best known in the populated areas of the Great Lakes of North America, and especially Western New York, southwestern and central Ontario, northwestern and northcentral Indiana (mostly between Gary, IN and Elkhart, IN, western Michigan and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which can average over 200 inches (5 meters) of snow per year and averages the most snow of any non-mountainous location within the continental U.S.
So there you have it. “The snow that flies today slept last night in Lake Superior.” It was water last night–another substance altogether. It was One with lake trout and whitefish and algae. It never dreamed it would be transformed in less than twenty-four hours into a crystal flake of snow! It never dreamed…
And perhaps tonight it will fall gently back into the lake which gave it birth, returning to liquid water once more. Until the day–very soon, I suspect–when the ice forms thick on the bays and one day in 2011 the ice fishermen will drill holes into the ice to find the water below in which silver-finned fish circle in depths of 280 feet, in waters which perhaps have transformed from snow to water.
I find myself scurrying a lot in the cold weather, shutting down, attempting to maintain body heat. The temperature lingers in the 20’s. The weather forecast announces “Snow” for days on end.
We are actually not in one of the prime lake effect areas of the Upper Peninsula. The Keweenaw receives much more lake effect snow. There is an area between Marquette and Munising (to our east) which you pray not to drive in mid-winter as lake effect snow never seems to cease falling.
Are we ready for our quiz? No peeking back! Unlike me, you should have read these words very carefully, digesting them.
Quiz: what is a snow belt? (Is it a belt snow wears to keep itself up? Is it a noise that snow makes when it hits rooftops?)
Are there any volunteers handy with a snow shovel? Want to come north and wield its weight throughout these lake effect snows? Expert snow plowers are also welcome. We haven’t plowed the driveway yet, but it’s getting kind of deep.
Getting deep with the water that slept in Lake Superior last night.