The lake effect is in full effect in the Bayfield and the Apostle Islands

Distant sea fog with broken ice in the foreground

April 6, 2023

The winter of 2022/23 is one for the record books for Bayfield and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. A massive 158.7 inches of snow – so far – makes this the snowiest winter on record. Thanks to the lake effect snow machine, the previous record of 150.3 inches in 2013/14 didn’t stand a chance. And while we’re several weeks into meteorological spring, you wouldn’t know it in Bayfield. Friends board member Erica Peterson says, “Spring is supposed to enter next week with temps in the 50s but today winter lake effect is in full display. I wouldn’t trade our last few days of winter for anything.” In words and photographs, she explains why.

Rising snow devils and blue skies at the Bayfield Harbor entrance

Snow devils rise into partly cloudy skies outside of Bayfield Harbor – Erica Peterson photo

The last couple of days on and over the lake have been both dramatic and dynamic as winter argues with spring. The ice between Madeline Island and Bayfield comes and goes with winds from the north and then east and south. The gusts pummel the snow on the ice creating updrafts that look like mini tornadoes.

We were recently treated to a spectacular night light show and a rare phenomenon called a thundersnowstorm/thundersnow. It was about 11p.m., the wind was howling, temperatures were dropping, and lightening illuminated the dark skies over the Apostle Islands and continually bounced off the low cloud cover. Snow was falling and intermittently the sound of graupel/hail hitting my windows combined with the sound of muffled thunder.

I suspect there was some strong vertical mixing occurring as cold air passed over the relatively warm water of Lake Superior. The tops of the thunderheads were lower than in summer, characteristic of a winter thunderstorm.

Lake effect continues to make our week dramatic and dynamic as we experience near blizzard-like conditions from the strong, cold winds blowing across the lake. As long as the air remains colder than the water the wind will pick up water vapor from out over the lake, rise through the colder air, freeze, and then drop heavy snow on our downwind shores. Today looks like the middle of winter.

Iced-in at the dock - Erica Peterson photo
Ferry and fishing tug at the dock amid broken ice - Erica Peterson photo

The increased instability of energy in the air, beautifully experienced in the skies over the Apostles, is but one more thing that calls attention to these rugged islands on the south shore of Lake Superior. Add thundersnowstorm to the aurora borealis from earlier and realize we have been gifted two truly spectacular phenomenon of nature at work.

– Erica Peterson, Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore board member and lover of winter

Snow-covered City Dock with snow devils in the distance - Erica Peterson photo

Snow-covered City Dock with snow devils in the distance.  A snow devil or whirling column of snow is a rare phenomenon that happens when surface wind shear generates a vortex over snow cover, lifting the snow into the air. – Erica Peterson photo

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