Tag Archive | winter

Wintery spring

Speaking of enjoying winter while it lasts (and lasts and lasts and lasts), I thought I’d showcase some of why I love the Midwest and its seasons.  One word: Weather.

Storm clouds in Marinette County, WI drop "virga" - rain that never hits the ground.  The large anvil-shaped clouds near the horizon indicate full-fledged storms to the west.

Storm clouds in Marinette County, WI drop “virga” – rain that never hits the ground. The large anvil-shaped clouds near the horizon indicate full-fledged storms to the west.

We all know that adage, “If you don’t like the weather in [insert location here], just wait five minutes and it will change.”  I’ve lived in a lot of places, and in almost every one that same statement is repeated, as though their town, or state, or region has the craziest weather on earth.  Well folks, I’m here to tell you that you are mostly wrong.  For example, in the San Francisco area, this is used to refer to the daily variability of the weather… BUT the weather is exactly the same from day to day!  Every morning is foggy, then it gets breezy around mid-day, the fog burns off and it is sunny and pleasant for a few hours, before getting slightly too warm, but then the shore breezes return and the chill of the evening sets in.  That’s from, say, April through August.  In October is is sunny and warm; in January it rains all the time.  You actually have to wait months for the weather to change!  It makes a lot of things really convenient – for example, camping farther up the coast, you can usually tell by mid-afternoon if you will get any fog/dew overnight, and decide what you’ll need for a tent based on that.

What makes the setting sun look like that?  Weather!  Also known as moisture in the atmosphere...

What makes the setting sun look like that? Weather! Also known as moisture in the atmosphere…

In Wisconsin, that is never an option.  Here is Wisconsin, we start to get nervous if the weather pattern has been constant for a few days (three if the weather is bad, six or seven if it’s good).  During spring and summer, it is shocking to have a whole day pass without a front coming in or a storm cell blowing through.  Year-round, the weather is a constant source of concern and conversation to those whose lives are in any way related to the natural world.  Will we have enough snow to fill the lakes and rivers… but not so much that our towns’ budgets are used up plowing, or too many snow days close the schools?  Will spring come early or late, wet or dry, and how will this affect the planting of fields, harvesting timber, maple syrup

Green pumpkins pulled in before a hard freeze.  Last year, we had two weeks between the first frost and this freeze, which left most of my squash to ripen.  Most of these eventually ripened indoors, and the results are still in my freezer this spring!

2013 saw warm temperatures and a wet summer, which put lots of pumpkins on the vines, despite a late spring.  I covered my pumpkins for the first frost, but harvested them two weeks later before the hard freeze.  Most of these eventually ripened indoors, and the results are still in my freezer this spring!

production, or early-season fishing?  Will the summer be so hot or humid as to be unbearable, or pleasantly warm; will we have enough rain to feed the crops and leave the rivers paddle-able, but not so much to flood or flatten the fields?  Will we have an early frost, leaving me out on a chilly night covering up plants laden with green tomatoes – or one so late that leaves obscure the woods for deer hunters?

A thunderstorm rages east of Florence, WI, which remains safe and dry.

A thunderstorm rages east of Florence, WI, which remains safe and dry.

This is, in a word, awesome.  I moved back here from the West Coast in large part because they don’t have thunderstorms there.  Here in the south-west part of the state, the hills are high, and the late spring weather pattern brings storms in from the West, through Iowa.  If you find yourself on a tall hill, or on the central Military Ridge, you can often see four or five storm cells at once, dropping rain and lightning on towns close and far.  You know the storm is over when steam begins to rise from the wooded hills, even if a little drizzle persists.

A storm moves in from west.  It wound up passing just to the south as we watched the town across the river get drenched from our perch in Sauk County, WI.

A storm moves in from west. It wound up passing just to the south as we watched the town across the river get drenched from our perch in Sauk County, WI.

 

You only get rainbows when it rains...  Grantsburg, WI

You only get rainbows when it rains… Grantsburg, WI

Wisconsin also seems varied weather patterns around the state.  Location of certain industries in certain regions, and the presence of several large rivers running north-to-south, means that the weather in one place has repercussions around the state.  Right now, for example, northern Wisconsin still has a foot or more of snow on the ground, and some lakes have up to 30″ of ice still on.  The rivers have mostly opened up, though, and are flowing well.  In the southern parts of the state, all water is open as of about a week ago, but overnight frosts and snow are continuing.  The Mississippi River is expected to crest above flood stage this weekend, and the Baraboo River will be flooding as well…but those northern lakes, including Lake Superior, might not be open until mid-May, based on latest predictions.  This has major effects not only on homes, farms, and recreation, but on shipping traffic as well.

The Mississippi above flood stage in Wisconsin at Wyalusing State Park, June 2013

The Mississippi above flood stage in Wisconsin at Wyalusing State Park, June 2013

This road wash-out is a result of flooding caused by heavy rains in Grant County, WI, 2007

This road wash-out is a result of flooding caused by heavy rains in Grant County, WI, 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about our local weather, here are a couple of interesting links.

From the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, info on Lake Superior ice

From the National Weather Service, flood and storm warnings

Fire Weather Planning Forecast

Mississippi River Levels

U.S. Geological Survey Stream Gauges – click on your favorite river for a real-time update!

University of Wisconsin Extension’s Climate of Wisconsin page and their Corn Silage Moisture page

On Weather Underground you can find historical weather information, as well as information from various private and public weather stations in your area, and cool weather photos from spotters and interested citizens.

 

Red sky at night, sailor's delight... an adage predicting clear weather in the morning, among the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior; Bayfield, WI

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight… an adage predicting clear weather in the morning, among the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior; Bayfield, WI

A thin ribbon of light at the horizon separates the overcast sky from a frozen Lake Superior... what you can't feel in this photo are chilly winds upwards of 20 mph blustering off the lake.

A thin ribbon of light at the horizon separates the overcast sky from a frozen Lake Superior… what you can’t feel in this photo are chilly winds upwards of 20 mph blustering off the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this spring, or endless winter, or whatever you are experiencing wherever you are – enjoy the weather!  Enjoy living in a place where the weather, natural conditions, matter.  Enjoy being able to understand how the weather will affect you, your neighbors, the produce you’ll eat this summer, the milk you’ll drink, the fish you’ll catch, the animals you’ll hunt.

 

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Eben Ice Cave

Eben Ice Cave.  The cave is formed as melting and seeping groundwater trickles over a rock overhang and freezes.  This cold winter was great for ice formation!

Eben Ice Cave. The cave is formed as melting and seeping groundwater trickles over a rock overhang and freezes. This cold winter was great for ice formation!

This winter, everyone was talking about the Lake Superior ice caves up in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  I thought about going, even tentatively planned to go, and then it got so popular that they were seeing crowds of 10,000 or more on the weekends!  I visited the Apostle Islands last summer, and had had the opportunity to kayak out to those “sea caves” in a small group.  I thought that it would be pretty neat to see them frozen, but that the huge crowds might detract from my enjoyment of wild nature.  Of course, if this weather keeps up, the big lake will stay frozen all summer and I’ll get to go see them in July…  just kidding!

Instead of making the three-hour drive to Bayfield, I took a 1.5-hour trip to Eben, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, south of Munising.  There is a rock overhang there surrounded by seeps which turns into an “ice cave” of its own every winter.  On the day we visited (slightly warmer than average for this winter), there were maybe 150 other people there while we were, including the half-mile hike in and out.  It was quite windy and lightly snowing, which meant that this 3/4 mile through the woods was infinitely more pleasant that a half mile out on the open ice of Lake Superior would have been!  The cave itself included spectacular formations, and was well worth the visit!

From the inside, looking out

From the inside, looking out

These kids have obviously been exploring the Eben Ice Cave for quite a while!

These kids have obviously been exploring the Eben Ice Cave for quite a while!

 

 

I love these falls of ice seeping out from the wall under the overhang!

I love these falls of ice seeping out from the wall under the overhang!

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The cave is on public land, but within a federally-designated wilderness area, which means no motorized use is allowed. The access is on private land, thanks to a generous landowner.  From the tiny town of Eben, small signs point the way to the parking lot.  Someone, perhaps the landowner or perhaps the Forest Service, had set up portable toilets for the crowds to use, and a donation box for them, and there was a small private concession stand in the parking area as well.  The first part of the walk parallels the snowmobile trail across an open farm field, and after that it enters the Hiawatha National Forest, Rock River Wilderness.

The ice at the very top of these interior seeps was clear enough to see through like glass

The ice at the very top of these interior seeps was clear enough to see through like glass

More ice forming...

More ice forming…

These stalactites of frost grew off the ceiling of the cave

These stalactites of frost grew off the ceiling of the cave

National Forest Wilderness Areas are intended to be managed free of human input, so no vegetation management (eg: timber harvest, trail clearing) is allowed, and there are no facilities for those recreating in the area.  For me, this makes for an ideal adventure.  There were plenty of down trees for my dog to jump over and under, side trails to explore (if the snow weren’t so deep…), steep ravines, and old-growth trees.  It is a beautiful hike, but will take some effort!  Snowshoes are likely to be unnecessary, since the trail is so well-packed, especially on weekends.  Ice cleats (or commercial ice-walking grips) are highly recommended… but we didn’t have them and didn’t feel that we needed them, either.  [Note to readers: three weeks ago I slipped on ice and broke my leg, so I advise that you do as I say, not as I do!]

Check out that slippery floor!  It was awesome to get to walk around among these formations!

Check out that slippery floor! It was awesome to get to walk around among these formations!

Spring?? Who needs spring!

Usually at this time of year I would be blogging about the spring of the year, posting photos of the first shoots of grass, buds on trees, and the earliest wildflowers.  This year, though, I am injured and confined indoors, and another winter storm is set to slam us tonight, with some parts of our fair state slated to get another foot of April snow!  I thought I would take the opportunity to showcase some of my later winter adventures.  After all, if you can’t beat the cold, you might as well enjoy it!

Cassell Bluff in a snowstorm, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Cassell Bluff in a snowstorm, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Still Winter

It has been warm for the past few days, but today snow fell again, to remind us that winter hasn’t let go just yet.  I’m getting antsy for spring to begin, but in the meantime I’ll continue to showcase the joys of the winter wonderland we live in, here in the frozen North.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a morning to go cross-country skiing on a trail system I’d never visited before, in Niagara, WI.  Afterwards, I headed across the river to Michigan to hike the trail in to Piers Gorge, and check out some more frozen waterfalls.  I thought I’d share some of the experiences of that day.

IMG_0056The trails in Riverside Park feature 17 winding km of groomed classic skiing.  Despite living only 20 miles away, I hadn’t even known that this trail netweek existed, until I went onto SkinnySki to look for some new adventures.  I highly recommend that site for information about trails near home or in unfamiliar locations, at least in the upper Midwest.  The trails lead through some pretty scenery, from IMG_0053recent aspen clear-cuts and red pine plantations, to fields, spruce swamps, marshes, and riverfront.  There are some hills, but most of the terrain is flat (in the Menominee River floodplain), or rolling at best.  Despite being just outside of town, it feels like skiing in more remote parts of the Northwoods (which I’ll get to in later posts).  My only criticism is that it could use some maps.  There are a lot of loops, most of which eventually connect up at some point, but it would have been nicer to have been able to plan the journey better.

A view of the frozen Menominee River from a spur of the Riverside Trails in Niagara, WI

A view of the frozen Menominee River from a spur of the Riverside Trails in Niagara, WI

 

IMG_0074Though tired from skiing, I wanted to see how some of the more turbulent portions of the river were looking in frozen condition.  I crossed over into Norway, MI, and hiked up the snowy trail to Piers Gorge.  It is beautiful in any season, and this was no exception.  It’s hard to capture the intricacies of the ice buildup without more sunlight to provide contract… which should be an excuse for you to come and visit it yourself sometime!IMG_0078

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Bond…

IMG_0272While I’m on the subject of frozen waterfalls, I saw a beautiful one the other day!  On a whim, I drove up to Bond Falls, a spectacular multi-level falls on the Ontonogan River near Paulding, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It is located within the boundaries of the Ottawa National Forest, but the park facilities are managed by the Upper Peninsula Power Company, which operates the dam just upstream, and designated by the Michigan DNR as a State Scenic Site.  None of that matters much to the casual visitor though – we are more impressed by the scope of the falls – a 50′ cumulative drop and over twice that wide at the bottom!

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Though it’s been quite cold at night, it has been warming up enough during the days to keep most of the ice off the face of the falls.  There was still a lot of accumulation from the spray, and in more slowly-moving sections, which was impressive in itself.

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It had gotten cloudy on the drive over, but a few rays of sun came out for about two minutes, and I got some great shots of the spray hitting the walls of ice at the bottom.

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In fact, one of the best parts about this falls was how slowly it moved.  As a result, there were many small currents and eddies to see, and the rock was mostly visible under the clear water, without clouds of foam and bubbles to obscure it.

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In one section, it was clear that some concrete structures had been added , both to shore up the banks of the river, and within the bed of the river/falls itself.  We speculated that it might be intended to slow the water down for safety, or to enhance the appearance of the waterfall (unlikely to be done IMG_0301nowadays but a common enough practice earlier in our history).  We figured that it must be somehow related to the dam near the top of the cascades, but couldn’t quite figure out how.  It piqued my curiosity, and I did a little research.  It turns out that, when the dam that created the Bond Falls Flowage was built, all the water from the natural river was engineered to go through the power dam, and the falls actually dried up in some seasons, so they had to divert water back in order to make it keep flowing.  Since it flowed more slowly than before, with lower water volume, they put in the structures along the banks to keep all the water IMG_0386heading to the main falls, and the structures in the river for the sake of appearance.

 

 

 

 

On a warmer day, I could have sat on the banks and just watched for hours as the water poured over the IMG_0291rocks, pooling here, flowing there, turning around and seeming to flow back up hill before rushing over another ledge.  Of course, on a warmer day there would have been crowds of people there to change the experience.   This is by no means a “wild” falls – not only has it been slightly domesticated by the structures explained above, but the viewers are “tamed” as well, constrained the a wooden boardwalk at the bottom (offering excellent views while keeping everyone safe) and handrails on the trail up along the river (useful on the steep sections and to remind the foolhardy not to step closer to the rushing water).  However, given its history it might not exist at all, had someone not recognized its value and kept it flowing strong for the rest of us!

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Five Months Later… A Different World

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A couple of weeks ago, I went back to Pictured Rocks to see the spectacles blanketed in snow and ice. Munising, MI had gotten quite a bit of snow, compared

Miner's Falls Road, Munising, MI

Miner’s Falls Road, Munising, MI

to points just a little farther inland, but even so it was nowhere near the potential for that area in late winter. “Lake effect” snow falls on the band of land along the Great Lakes, a result of slightly elevated temperature and moisture content, as well as air currents. Munising’s average annual snowfall is around 152″.  I don’t know exactly what the snow depth was on March 3rd, when I was there, but I would estimate around 2′ or slightly more. Today, Munising comes in at 34″ on the ground; the deepest snow depth ever recorded for Marquette, just down the road, on March 15th, was 63″and today they’re at about 20″- so we’d have a long way to go this year. Still, I was less interested in exploring the snow than the ice – frozen water at its finest covering the largest lake in the world and its surrounding waterfalls.
I only had a couple hours between when I arrived and when the sun was scheduled to set. I stopped in at the Interagency Visitor’s Center, and the woman at the desk said that the best waterfall to see would be Miner’s Falls, but that the road was only plowed part of the way in. The rest, she said, was used as a snowmobile trail, and it would be a two mile hike down it to the falls. At least that was how I understood it… reality turned out to be a little different, with the full hike to the falls over 3 miles. The snowmobile “trail, ” too was more heavily-used than I’d expected. It was really a road, long and straight, and as I hiked along the edge, snow machines came whizzing by at over 60 mph, stirring up a mist of snow and leaving an acrid exhaust in their wake. I was happy to finally turn off onto the side road to the falls after 40 minutes of trudging anxiously alongside them.

Snowdrifts in the woods on the hike to Miner's Falls -almost as striking as the waterfall itself!

Snowdrifts in the woods on the hike to Miner’s Falls -almost as striking as the waterfall itself!

I got to Miners Falls as the sun was setting, so I didn’t have much time to explore, just to stand in the observation area and shoot a few photos. The formations of ice and snow on the falls, the frozen river, and the trail’s ridge were beautiful and amazing!

Miner's Falls and Miner's River, viewed from above

Miner’s Falls and Miner’s River, viewed from above

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When I got back out to the snowmobile road, it was getting dark, and the traffic had slowed considerably – in fact only one group of four sleds passed me on my walk back to the car. By the time I arrived, full dark had set in, and the stars had come out in the peaceful cold stillness of the Upper Peninsula. Miner’s Falls is beautiful in winter, but I’m not sure it is worth the hike all the way in. However, snowmobile seems like an excellent way to explore the National Lakeshore in winter- you can access many sites in a day. Hiking out on the rugged lake ice (with plenty of windproof clothing!) would be a unique way to see the beautiful rock formations. There are far fewer people than in summer, and the austere light and colors of winter make for great photographs. I may just have to try renting a sled next year and seeing what I can find!

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Lake Superior’s Shelter Bay, dotted in fishing shacks, with the beginning of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the northeast.