Winter strikes

HOUGHTON – Defying a pattern established during the last few years, the first big blast of winter weather is hitting the Keweenaw and the western Upper Peninsula in early December rather than in January.

Jason Alumbaugh, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Negaunee Township, said the heavy lake effect snowfall and high winds are a result of cold air dropping down from Canada and passing over the water of the relatively warmer Lake Superior.

A band of snow spreading from the Apostle Islands off Wisconsin over the Keweenaw Peninsula is bringing the nasty weather, Alumbaugh said. The heavy snow band is from 5 miles north to 5 miles south of Portage Lake at Hancock and Houghton.

However, Alumbaugh said a warm front from Iowa Wednesday caused a mix of sleet and snow on the Keweenaw, which froze over after cold air hit the area after midnight, and the precipitation turned to all snow.

“That’s heading off towards James Bay (Canada),” he said of the warm front from Iowa. “It took a while for the cold air to come in.”

Thursday, Alumbaugh said there were reports of wind gusts in Freda in northwest Houghton County, and at the Houghton County Memorial Airport north of Hancock, reaching 50 mph and 40 mph, respectively. At the Houghton County Memorial Airport, visibility at certain times Thursday was less than one-quarter mile.

“What you’re seeing is localized blizzards,” he said.

The NWS definition of a blizzard is wind gusts greater than 35 mph over three hours and no visibility, Alumbaugh said.

There is a winter weather advisory for the area until 7 a.m. Sunday, Alumbaugh said.

“That’s for the entire Keweenaw,” he said.

The advisory includes strong winds, heavy snow fall and cold temperatures, Alumbaugh said.

According to the NWS, snowfall totals Thursday included 3.6 inches in Jacobsville and 9 inches in Atlantic Mine. The Keweenaw Research Center near the Houghton County Memorial Airport reported a snowfall of 4 inches Thursday.

Through Sunday, Alumbaugh said snow will continue to fall, with greater amounts in higher elevations.

“Some places may be 1 to 2 feet,” he said.

Sometime Sunday, Alumbaugh said the current system will move to the north, but there will be another system moving in Monday.

“We’ll have more lake effect then,” he said.

High temperatures from today through Sunday will be in the low to mid teens depending on the area, Alumbaugh said.

Early December winter weather storms are not unusual for the Keweenaw, Alumbaugh said.

“This is kind of more typical,” he said.