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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

Chance of snow: 100 percent

December 11, 2009
By Jim Junttila

Wave after wave of lake effect snow swept off Lake Superior and blanketed the Keweenaw in our first winter storm of the season. At first I thought we were in for the usual knee-deep dusting, but I was wrong; it was a significant dumping. It kept coming, then kept on keeping on for quite a while after that.

It wasn't like we didn't see it coming. The signs were there. It all started with a few flirtatious flakes that led to a brief ground cover back on Oct. 7; just a little tease, a peep show of things to come. Then a Thanksgiving tracking snow made hunters thankful and turned out to be the last time we'll see bare ground again until April.

"I know I'm getting a little ahead of myself," said Winter Solstice, who doesn't come until Dec. 21 no matter what. "Being the smallest and snowiest county in the U.P., the Keweenaw naturally piles it higher and deeper, hence our long-standing Ph.D in snowfall. There's nothing honorary about it, we earned every inch of it, with a compulsory refresher course every winter."

"I set the bar pretty high with that 283-inch performance in K-County last year," Winter said as she patted herself on the back. "I'm shooting for 300 this year," she added competitively. "So far, I've dumped a good 50-some inches on the area, with select locations in Houghton and Keweenaw counties getting 75 and as much as two feet on the ground for good measure, depending where you measure."

Not just any snow either, but top-shelf champagne powder the skiers adore; none of that cheap, heavy, heart attack stuff like they get downstate and in Wisconsin.

"This is totally the good stuff!" Heikki Lunta enthusiastically agreed. "The economy may be heading south, but we're still serving top-shelf precipitation up north, and lots of it."

"More moderate climates are affected by El Nino, but not the U.P.," Winter added. The Keweenaw is subject to the wintry wrath of El Niemi working with Heikki Lunta (Hank Snow) the Finnish Snow God. Both are known for picking up more snow than they can carry, then just dumping it on us whenever they want. That's why we get more snow before Winter even starts (Dec. 21) than most places get all winter long.

This year we're right on schedule with 50-some inches. Mt. Bohemia already has more than that and plans to open Dec. 19. For current snow conditions, visit with links to Mont Ripley and the Porkies. Other online snowfall resources are and, which will keep you posted on XC ski conditions.

A good storm is a full-blown opportunity to haul out metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia and other exciting figures of speech to dramatize a weather report with howling winds outa the northwest, crashing waves, pounding surf, and slippery, treacherous roads to get you to stay home and hunker down like you oughta.

Frigid single-digit temperatures with dangerous, way-below-zero windchills, chance of snow 100 percent, 8-10 inches accumulation overnight, c-c-c-colder than a mother-in-law's love tomorrow.

If you're not careful, I'll have you riding the horns of a dilemma into the teeth of a blizzard for your winter reading enjoyment.

I don't know how weather like that affects you, but I batten down the hatches, bundle up in my shorts and flip-flops, crank up Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band, throw another log on the fire, and go about my business. Sometimes just creating the illusion of warmth does the trick until it gets that way again. Crackling fires and flickering candles help too.

The onset of winter always leaves me torn. It hits me while I'm brushing off the foot of snow that fell on my van overnight. Thank God for remote starters.

Parta me loves it and I pull on my Carhartts and parka and go out for a blizzard walk. Another parta me thinks sultry Florida thoughts, visualizing the Filthy Pelican and other backroad cabanas and boat bars on the southern end of US-41. Meanwhile, ancient radiator pipes clank, gurgle and hiss themselves to life and bring me back from my subtropical daydream. In a howling sub-zero blizzard, you can't beat the kinda heat you can hear, see, touch, smell and feel.

I still go both ways on Winter. I enjoy first ice, a white Christmas, and the chills, spills and thrills of urban skiing on Mont Ripley through binoculars from the Thirsty Fish, high atop the Best Western Franklin Square Inn in downtown Houghton. Throw in a few hockey games, a howling blizzard or two, and I'm happy. Then I'm on the road again, heading south on my annual Keweenaw-to-Key West pilgrimage to rummage around Florida and fish myself silly for the winter.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at, even during a whiteout blizzard.



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