Unfortunately, I have decided to discontinue snow measurements. Last winter finally persuaded me of the limits of collecting and tabulating daily snowfall — even on a double city lot. The wind eddies around nearby structures result in huge drifts when winds gust upwards of 40 mph. As Marquetters know, this is an all too common event in the winter, particularly when storms come off Lake Superior. It then becomes very difficult or even impossible to separate drifted from newly fallen snow. Sometimes the snow boards are simply blown clean. Taking measurements from multiple locations won’t improve matters when everywhere around is subject to the same forces.
You may have seen the widely circulated story that the local National Weather Service office has measured over 200 inches of snow this season as of Monday morning, February 25th. Unfortunately, some articles have explicitly assigned the total to Marquette. Others have allowed readers to conclude that this is a representative total for the area. In fact, the NWS office is located well outside of the city limits in the highlands which receive substantially more snow.
A helpful rule of thumb is that for every 100 ft you gain in elevation, you can expect 10 additional inches of yearly snowfall.* Of course, there are other factors, such as differing lake exposure, that come into play in the wider area. For this comparison, however, elevation is the key difference. So, given that the NWS office is 800 ft higher than the lakeshore of Marquette, that represents approximately 80″ of additional snowfall per year. In fact, that’s very close to the 30 year normals. Marquette normally receives close to 120″, and Negaunee Township gets a little over 200″ per year.
So far this season (October 1 – February 25) in Marquette, the city’s official NOAA COOP weather station has recorded 96.3″. That’s less than HALF the amount the NWS office received. Just a mile away from the COOP station at our location, 3 blocks south of downtown, we recorded 108″ in that period. We are about 100 ft higher than the COOP station, which explains why we’ve had a bit more snow. To be more than fair, I would allow for an additional foot or so lost to high winds this winter at our station (which would give us about 120″).
So, in other words, both Marquette and Negaunee Twp have received something close to their normal seasonal totals thru the end of February. That would be the proper way to frame a story if, indeed, you were writing about Marquette.
In reverse chronological order (newest first):
- Measurement site is now open (as of 3 pm Monday) & ready for the next precip event!
- The snow measurement site is currently blocked by 4+ ft drifts. Will dig out this afternoon. But I was able to see from a distance that only a trace of snow has fallen since the last report at 10:40 pm Sunday (at which time I body surfed through the snow to reach the gauge).
- Winds should really start to fall off after noon today (Monday).
- Our storm total from Saturday morning thru Sunday night is 12.3″ of snow. Likely we got a few additional inches but they found a home in nearby drifts.
- Just recorded another low-ish snowfall measurement of 0.9″ at 10:40 pm. Can’t keep snow on the board.
- As of 11 pm it appears that winds may have peaked in the 8 pm hour. Each successive hour has had a lower average wind speed.
- NEW Station Record of 51 mph set at 9:03 pm Sunday
- Winds should peak between about 7 pm – 9 pm Sunday
- Last snow measurement of 1.2″ (representing snowfall between 7:30 am – 2:05 pm) is low. Unfortunately, snow is being blown off the collection surface. I left some snow on there so hopefully the incoming snow will stick to it. But with almost horizontal snowfall, it’s tough to measure! It all wants to collect in a drifted pile somewhere.
- It’s possible we could break our station wind record (49 mph) in the next 24 hours.
- We received some freezing rain overnight. About 0.2″. From what I could see, though, power lines and tree limbs were unaffected — no ice accumulation. Probably too much wind and too warm to stick. The really cold temps don’t hit until later tonight.
- Almost an entire February’s worth of precipitation fell in the 24 hours ending 7:30 am Sunday: 1.22″. Normally we receive about 1.3″ of melted precipitation for the month. We’re now at 4.99″ for February 2019!
Due to a combination of intense recent snowfall, high winds, and limited space, we have nowhere to place a snow board where it is not subject to significant drifting. The city has become a labyrinth of snow piles that powerful lake winds are merging and leveling.
Therefore, effective 11 AM Friday 2/15, we are suspending snow measurements indefinitely.
Once the winds subside and/or the peaks reduce/even out we will resume snow measurement. Given the forecast of sunny to partly sunny days this weekend and limited snowfall in the next several days, hopefully that will happen by next week.
Note: a liquid equivalent reading taken from our gauge will continue to appear in the precipitation tables on our History page.
[UPDATE Saturday 2/16/19]: I have relocated a snow board to be further from any potentially drifting high spots to the north and northwest (two of the most common direction for snow in the winter here). After knocking on wood, I am now reinstating measurements. I have added 2″ to yesterday’s snow total as a minimum estimate of what fell after 8AM.
That was until the #PolarVortex hit us last week. No chance of that now. After ending 2018 below normal, we are off to a cool start for 2019.
Snow is running below normal too. That makes sense when its colder as the atmosphere runs drier.
The latest winter storm has underperformed (thus far) in terms of city snowfall. No measurable snow as of 10:30PM Tuesday night. Too much westerly flow, not enough northerly. That hasn’t kept the wind from kicking up quite a bit of blowing snow. Wind chills as of this posting were -20 and falling. You never know. I could post this, go to bed, and wake up to 6″ tomorrow.
This weekend should offer a reprieve, but don’t get too used to it. There appears to be another cooling trend in the extended outlook.
Punxsutawney Phil might be held at gunpoint this year.
[UPDATE Wed 1/30/19 9:00AM]: Our snow board had only a trace of snow on it this morning. Our gauge caught what amounts to something like 1″ of snow (when you reconstruct it from liquid equivalence and compensate for under catch from wind).
Sometimes, when you hear or read “a new record was set in Marquette today” in media reports, they are referring to the National Weather Service office in Negaunee Township. Such was the case yesterday, when it was widely reported that a daily snow record of 8.9″ was set on November 19th. Marquetters may have been scratching their heads thinking, “We maybe got 5 or 6″. I don’t see how we got 9!”
You may already be aware that the phrase “NWS Marquette” does not refer to the city proper. Sometimes, however, that phrase is omitted or put in small letters at the bottom of a graphic when discussing “Marquette’s” weather. It’s especially confusing for people who aren’t from here (students, for example) or visiting.
There’s about an 8 mile and 800ft elevation difference between the weather service forecast office just outside Negaunee and the lakeshore of Marquette. As a result, the former averages approximately 200″ of snow annually. The city of Marquette, as measured at the COOP station on Lakeshore Blvd, receives a yearly average of just under 120″. So about 40% less snow falls there than at the NWS office.
In Real Terms
To illustrate, on Nov 19-20 when the NWS office measured 12.3″, the Marquette COOP reported 6.7″ (and that’s including part of the 18th and 21st too). We’re 1 mile SW of the COOP station as the crow flies, and we recorded 6.1″ of snow for the 19th and 20th.*
So, no, we’re not under measuring. It may seem like Marquette received more than half a foot during that period, but drifts are excluded from our measurements. Boy are they impressive in places though! The gales will do that.
That said, we’ve still had one incredible November for snowfall! Officially, 14.2″ of snow had fallen by 8AM today. The normal total for the entire month is 10.9″. Unofficially, at our station next to the Vet’s Home, the 8AM total was 17.3″ with 9 days to go! We tend to measure a bit more snow at our location than they do down at the lakefront. That’s because:
- We are about 100′ higher which usually means more snow.
- We measure more often which prevents snow from sublimating (evaporating), melting or compacting.
Well, if you’re in Marquette, I hope you like a white holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
UPDATE (later that day): Here’s an example headline: Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula sets daily snowfall record. While this is from downstate, I’ve seen similar things from the local media here.
UPDATE (11/22/18): Speak of the devil, here’s a link to local media spreading confusion: Monday’s snowfall breaks record for Marquette. Earth to media: we have a 147 years of public weather records in Marquette, and, oddly, they weren’t measured in Negaunee Township.
* The NWS and this station record weather from midnight to midnight. The COOP station records from 8AM – 8AM making daily comparisons a bit difficult.
There was a Problem?
So perhaps you’ve noticed lately on sunny days forecasted highs have been lower than the actual highs by several degrees. Well… it turns out that’s not entirely true.
During the deepest part of winter when the polar vortex was regularly occurring (late December into January), we were having equipment issues. Normally, we measure temperatures inside an enclosure that has a fan running on solar power during the day and batteries at night. Unfortunately, the weather destroyed the electronics that controlled the battery charging, among other casualties.
As a quick fix, we installed a passive (fan-less) shield for our sensor. Passive shelters are fine during our normally very cloudy, windy winters. Wouldn’t you know it, the sun decided to show up and, along with it, gentle breezes! That makes for beautiful winter days in Marquette. It is also a recipe for solar-induced sensor errors.
The snow acts like a mirror to the sun and the reflected radiation gets into the sensor and heats it up. How much? A rough estimate, based on before and after tests of running with and without a fan, is 3-5 degrees F. Studies have shown that, in fact, on completely calm, sunny days over a fresh blanket of snow, errors can reach up to 18 deg F! Continue reading “Temperature Readings Just Improved!”
We measured 4.1″ out of the last system that passed through overnight and this morning. It was the light, fluffy stuff (15:1 ratio of snow to water). Almost 2.5″ fell between 7:00 and 9:30AM alone.
Looks like some more snow will fall overnight Saturday into Sunday AM. Amounts are in flux at the moment. NWS is estimating 1-2″ and Weather Underground is forecasting 3-5″.
Stay tuned! The WU forecast is updated every 20 minutes. NWS updates less frequently but we check once per hour.
Over the last 30 years, the city has averaged 117.2” per year of snow. That’s based on measurements taken every morning close to the lakeshore (at the Waste Water Treatment Plant which houses the official COOP weather station for Marquette, MI).
A few days ago we added a “Seasonal Snow Total” entry to the Almanac section on the home page. This should provide some insight into the kind of winter we are having. Currently, the official weather station is seeing below average snowfall so far (55.1″) while we are experiencing above normal totals (83.6″).
Here at marquetteweather.com, located 1/4 mile south of downtown and approximately 100 ft above the lakeshore, we measure up to 4x daily. According to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), if snow stops falling midday, measuring the next morning can mean up to a 50% reduction in measurement (see below). Continue reading “Is Marquette Snowier Than We Think?”