Be Brief: Snow


Allison Mills, Michigan Tech Unscripted Research Blog

Snowstorms that make the rest of the country cringe are a weekly occurrence in the Keweenaw. What makes us so special?

Up here in the Keweenaw Peninsula, winter is a … thing. It’s a snow globe dream for skiing, ice fishing, snow art and sledding of both the plastic and gasoline varieties. We know the Mushing Club loves it. And our researchers certainly do too (OK, maybe just ice cover in lake models and testing autonomous vehicles in winter).

But why does it snow — and then some?

Precipitation, the sippable scientific word that describes water falling from the sky happens in an anticipatory moment, like riding the first uphill of a roller coaster, and precipitated snow, ice and rain plummets in a complex interaction between earth, sky and water. Using scientific slang, precip happens when the air is overjoyed with moisture and decides to share. And when joyous air hugs a steep rise of land, like a mountainside or the ridged spine of the Keweenaw, it sheds even more tears of joy.

It’s not only the Keweenaw’s rugged good looks that attract precip. Even in July, anyone who spends more than a week of vacation in the area knows the term lake-effect snow. Learn the atmospheric details in this episode of HuskyBites. Basically, when dry, cold air passes over warm water, the air can pick up a lot of moisture, and when that bonus of cold, wet happiness hits land, poof! Winter wonderland. With our average winter snowfall of 200-plus inches in Houghton, you can guess how often the waters of Lake Superior come to visit.