Can’t Get Enough!

Snow. I can’t get enough snow. After nearly breaking the record for snow in December, the snowfall backed off a bit for this end of the Keweenaw for the first half of this week. Such was not the story in other areas, where NW winds brought some very heavy snowfall late Tuesday into Wednesday. Not that our pace was a crawl, but when others are getting 8-12″ and I only get 4″, I start to feel a little left out! Especially since the last time I wrote, the ideas were for more of a west wind to keep the heavy snows falling from around Houghton north.

I am not a greedy person, even when it comes to snow. I love it when anyone who wants it gets hit hard. However, I cannot lie, there is also a bit of envy mixed in with that happiness! As we marched through the week, it kept looking like the NW winds would prevail until late in the week and then turn westerly…some hope for the north end to get dumped on prevailed.

I had to go to Marquette on Friday for my annual visit with the cardiologist. All went well and the trip there was snow free from around Chassell to Marquette. In fact, the sun was shining for most of my brief stay in Marquette. The drive home proved to be difficult for two reasons. The first being that the skies remained clear in Marquette and west to the highlands of Baraga county. With me heading west and it being early evening, that meant I had to fight a blinding sunset. Pretty as it was to see the sun, it was wickedly hard to drive into it, especially without sunglasses! I had borrowed Nora’s car and fortunately was able to dig out an old pair of sunglasses, which helped some. Then the sun set and I was good until just before Chassell. That is when I traveled back into a different land…a land of nearly constant snowfall.

The visibility deteriorated very quickly and so did my traveling speed. The plows were out and doing a great job with the roads. Very little snow on the roads, but falling snow and even worse, lots of snow dust because of the cold temps. I kept a nice safe distance from the car in front of me and just basically followed their dimmed tail lights trough the snow. The snowfall intensity kept up pretty good through Chassell, Houghton, Hancock and even the upper highway. Here is a shot taken while traversing the upper highway through the snow (highway 41 between Hancock-Calumet).

With lake effect, you can be traveling in a complete white out one minute and a few miles up the road, barely a flake will be falling, so I was wondering how far north the band of heavy snow would go. Would it make it all the way to our home, where I would find a fresh 3-6″ of snow to move, or would it die off? Heading through Calumet, the snow was still falling heavily. While I was hopeful home base was in the band, I did not get my hopes up too high, even being less than 8 miles from there. Then on the north side of Keasarge (about 6 miles as the crow flies from our house), the snowfall intensity started to diminish and by the time I turned off the highway into our neighborhood, there was barely a flake that was falling! To add insult to injury, all that had fallen since I cleared snow in the morning was about a half inch.

Grateful to be home safe and sound and to be with my family on a restful Friday evening, I was not too upset we were not getting dumped on. After settling in, I headed over to my office and took a look at things and the models were saying that the north end of the peninsula still had a good chance to get hit in the next 24 hours, so I finished up some chores in the office, turned off the lights and laid my head down to sleep.

I slept great Friday night. Hardly a toss or turn and then at around 6 am, the pups were giving me the signal that they had to go out, so I grabbed my robe and headed to the front door to let them out. When I opened the door, the sight that met me was pure joy for this snow junkie! At least 10″ of fresh snow had fallen and it was still dumping hard! After the pups came in, I headed to my office to do a quick reconnoiter to see how widespread the snow was. The radar was useless as usual and even the satellite imagery did not lend much help. So I then turned to the host of webcams in the region. Best I could tell, the heavier snow was falling from somewhere between Hancock and Calumet all the way north to the tip. I did end up going back to bed, but like a kid that has snuck down to get an early peak at what Santa left under the tree and then slipped back into bed before getting caught, I was not going to get back to sleep! So I laid there for a bit more and eventually got out of bed for good.

While the pups were out doing their business, I watched as Huck got to the bank on the far side of the parking area. It was more of a wall than a bank to him. The blower on Big Red had sliced a perfectly vertical cut through the snow and the top of it was about 12-15″ taller than his eyeballs. Back in his younger years, that would not have been a obstacle for him at all. Just a quick bound and he would be up on top of the snow. But this is now. They both turn a bittersweet 8 years old tomorrow. So it was dark, cold, windy, it was snowing heavily, the footing was not so good and thus he stood there, eyeballing the sheer cliff of snow that stood directly in front of him. It made quite the sight, so I ran to get my camera to capture the moment he was having. By the time I got back to the window, he had pulled the trigger and hopped up onto the bank and all that was left to see were some paw prints in the snow that went from the parking area up onto the bank.

He’s still got it! and so does his sister! They actually get around amazingly well for labs about to turn 8 and both having knee surgery. I am not happy about their age, but am thrilled that they are still in such good health. This past week was too cold for us to do much outside, well, me mostly, they can handle the cold! So I am looking forward to the more tolerable temps seen for this week. The snowshoe paths through the woods have been buried by feet of snow, but we know the way and plan to break them back open this week. That and a dinner of fresh salmon and green beans for their birthday dinner!

After breakfast with the girls, it was my turn to go out and survey the snow situation first hand. It seemed to be lightening up a bit, so I decided I would clear our driveway as well as the neighbors. So I fired up Big Red and headed down the road to the neighbors. I mentioned in the last entry how it is still so much fun to move snow with that piece of machinery and the clearing job on Saturday was all of that fun and more. I sat in my heated cab, sheltered from the cold, snow and winds, listening to tunes and steered Big Red around while it moved the 11″ of fresh snow with utter ease.

Once I got back, the girls, pups and I headed to “town” (Houghton) to run some errands. On Wednesday, I had met up with a local computer person to see about getting the stubborn trail cam going. With his expert help, we were able to get it up and running pretty quickly. We ran some tests and let it update for a bit and all looked good, so we packed it up and headed home. I awoke on Thursday to see that the cam had stopped working with its last shot of the day on Wednesday evening. So one of our stops Saturday was to see about getting the cam going again.  As is the case with many a computer issue, the problem was beyond my skill set, so I will put in a call to my computer folks tomorrow and see about getting back out there to hopefully fix it once and for all!

We got home from our trip to town around 12:30 and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting all the broken cams in the NCN straightened out. I do not own or operate the vast majority of the cams on the Northwoods Cam Network, so that means I am at the mercy of someone else making sure they are running properly. For the most part, it works well, but every year, a few seem to have issues. This season there seemed to be an inordinate amount of cams with issues. A few years back a visitor to the site offered up his services to do an audit of the cams and compile a list of broken ones or ones that needed to be removed. Thankfully he offered up his services again this season and provided me with a fantastic list of dead cams, cams in which the web address for the image had changed and as an additional bonus, a list of some new cams that he had found. I started tackling the list this week and was able to finish it off after a few more hours of work yesterday afternoon. I guess single digit days with wind chills below zero are good for something!

I did not get to adding the new cams just yet, but plan to this week. So a HUGE thanks to Aaron S. for all of his help on getting the NCN back up to speed. Keep in mind that cams go down all of their own from time to time, so if you still encounter one that is not updating, give it some time, it will likely be restarted by its owner. If it is down for weeks, then feel free to shoot me a note. I can also add that the Historical Weather section of the site has been brought up to speed. The page for 2014-15 is still needing to be completed, but all other pages are updated. So you historical snow buffs can get your fix!

Once I was all done with the NCN work, I headed back out into the snow to do some more moving. It had been snowing pretty steadily all day Saturday, but by late in the day the forecasted drop off had started to take place, so I headed over to the ice rink to get it cleared. It had not been cleared since earlier in the week, so there was a considerable amount of snow on the ice. In most areas, the depth was about halfway up the boards. Again, Big Red rose to the challenge, although the going was pretty slow with the amount that needed to be moved. We did get an inch overnight last night, so one of the first things I did this morning was to head back over and clear that. One of the folks that does the flooding had been in contact with me and he was planning to flood some more to get it all set for use. So I met him over at the rink, did a quick round of clearing and then helped him get the hose out to start the flooding. There was already a pretty decent ice surface on it, but it would be best to thicken it a bit more before opening the rink for use. He figured he could get 2-3 more floods on it today and that would be enough to open it. I have not been by since, but suspect that he accomplished his task and plan to grab my skates and give the rink a try this week with the milder temps.

It is amazing how much snow we have gotten since the first of December and how it has impacted things. Besides the travel issues and having to move it on an almost daily basis, it has also insulated the ground. If you were to dig down through the snow to the bare ground, you would still find it largely unfrozen. The almost never ending snow has made it hard for me to establish a nice mat on our driveway. Typically the first snows are pretty wet and I can pack that down tight and then a round of cold comes in and freezes things tight. This year, the snows came so frequently, it was difficult to get things packed in tight. Temps were almost always cold and thus the snow did not wan to pack well. Finally this past Monday, we had temps warm to near freezing. That allowed me to be able to pack down the snow tight and I finally have a nice mat. So why did I just spend a whole paragraph about making a mat for the driveway? Well, it is because it makes moving the snow SO much easier. All I have to do is drop the blower unit down, put it in float mode in which the hydraulics are not lifting or pushing the blower down, and then go. Until the mat is down, I will dig into the mine rock that is our driveway/parking area and make a mess. So I am a happy camper. I would love to pave our driveway/parking area, but struggle with the $8000+ cost!

After clearing the rink, the girls, pups and I took a little adventure to try and capture some of the snow scenes up here. It is not “epic” deep yet, but is very deep for early January, that is for sure. As I drive around the region, I can see in the eyes of those moving it around by shovel or walk behind blower that they have been snowed into submission. Gone is the novelty of moving the white stuff around and it is now just a daily chore. Much like having to cut the grass, but instead of once a week or so, it is every day. I do feel sorry for those folks. We have at least 2 more full months of regular snow to have to move and it could go another month after that!

Anyway, the first snow scene I thought you all would enjoy was taken without even leaving our parking area. Gracie’s swing set has been nearly buried half way up. Granted the snow is a little deeper here than it is in untouched areas because this area take some of the snow tossed from Big Red, but the snow also gets compacted. So it is very dense, but not much deeper than in untouched areas. The other shot is from the other side of the parking area. It is of the somewhat treacherous path I now have to take to clear the snow off the AL Cam platform. In the days before Big Red, I would keep the walkway along side the house open with the walk behind blower. A bit of a challenge at times, but doable. Now, the incline from the parking area to the walk way is just a bit too steep to be able to clear the blower. So it gets snowed in. Then the roof clears and it gets even deeper. Right now it is about 5 feet deep and if things keep going the way they are this season, it will get a lot deeper! So I did get out there today to clear it, but the days of clearing it every 24 hours might be behind us. I might look into re-working the landscape there, so I can get Big Red up to clear it, but another job for another day.

So we all got into the car to do our little adventure this afternoon. It was already past lunch time and none of us had eaten, so we stopped off to pick up some sub sandwiches. That allowed me to capture a shot of a building I have been wanting to share with you. It is in Calumet, right on the highway, but they do not keep the front entrances open, so the snow can just pile up. Plus, there are a pair of trees that are sheltered from the winds, so the snow can collect nicely on them. To lend some perspective to how deep the snow is there, I waited for a vehicle to pass by and took a shot with it in view to lend some perspective. It’s deep in Cally!

We then headed up Hwy 41 and back into Keweenaw county. The snows came late, so the deer were able to hang out where ever they wanted until early December and then it did not take long for them to have to head to the yarding areas to spend the winter. One yarding area is in Eagle River. They deer there are even given some supplemental feed to help them get by. Word has gotten out about that supplemental feeding through the years and there is usually no shortage of deer to see or folks sitting all nice and cozy in their vehicles to watch them. I am one of those folks all nice and warm in a vehicle, so I always feel a little sorry for the animals, but then I remind myself that there have been deer living here long before humans and they have learned to adapt. It is not easy, but they get by. Plus, they do have an awesome winter coat to keep them warm and dry.

After getting our fill of watching the deer hang out, we headed over to the beach to see the big lake. On my drive to Marquette, I was able to see that Keweenaw Bay had nothing but a bit of shore ice on it at the extreme southern end. So I figured there would not be much ice on the lake where it counts…west of the Keweenaw. Suspicion confirmed. Some shore ice that extended out maybe a half mile, but not enough to have any kind of an impact on the big lake’s snow production.

We then headed east to Eagle Harbor to see what was going on up that way. I always enjoy that stretch of M-26 through the cedars. It is pretty any time of the year, but I do believe that my favorite time is in the winter… The banks of snow on either side of the road and snow flocking the trees. The deer yard up all along that stretch in the winter, so you have to drive much more slowly than in the summer, but there is also WAY less vehicles on the road, so the slower drive only adds to the laid back feel of the road in the winter.

After reaching Eagle Harbor, we swung around and took the cut-off road back to the upper highway and back towards home. Before getting all the way back to our house, we took a side trip down a country road. Quite a few of the country roads up here are not even plowed in the winter. If no one lives on the road, the county wisely leaves it to the elements to save resources for the roads folks do live on. Such roads are not passable for most of the winter, unless you are on ski, snow shoe or sled. Some are even semi-secret gems for locals to do those exact activities. The country roads that are plowed can be a real challenge. Many in Houghton CO are in open areas that are exposed to the effects of drifting and I have heard some doozies from local plow operators about “bumps” in the snow being abandoned vehicles. Because of the slower speed the plows take to do these roads, the banks get higher than they do on the main highways. They will even “cut back” the banks on the main highways by using a wing plow that extends off to the right side of the plow truck and can shave and push back the banks to make room for more. The less traveled roads just get deeper banks and more closed in as the season progresses!

Back at home safe and sound, I snapped one more shot of a snow scene. This one is of the snow that needs to be removed from our roof. Most of the roofs have cleared on their own at least once, some twice so far this season. However, the complexity of the roof on the front side of the addition does not allow it to move too freely. Too many valleys to keep things all bottled up. So it always needs to be done, at least once a season and that time has come. So if you have some free time and a shovel….just kidding. I think I will hire a local school boy that needs money for gas for his truck or something similar and let them do the work. My days of roof shoveling are slowly going by the wayside!

The final tidbit I have for this rather long-winded entry is a sneak peak of the weather forecast. I figured I would save what could be the best for many of you for last. It looks like 2, possibly 3 low pressure systems will impact the upper Midwest with snow. The details to all of them are still not locked in stone, except to say that none of them look to be complete monsters. However, for folks living in the northern 1/2 of MN, WI, lower MI and most of the UP, the combined effect of these systems could lead to some fairly solid double digit accumulations in the next week to ten days. So for the Northwoods as a whole, the forecast looks quite promising. For those of you south of a line from just south of the Twin Cities to the southern tip of Lake Huron, it looks somewhat slim for snow. Perhaps some on the backside of each system, but the areas of the north who’s winter economy depends largely on folks coming to play in the snow look to benefit the most…At least the way things look right now.

Good night from the Keweenaw..