Thunder Snow!

Better Stay off the LakeYesterday we had a (relatively) rare occurrence of a phenomenon known as “thunder snow” that prompted me to dig out a feature from the Northern Michigan Journal:

Winter Thunder by Jerry Dennis

Thunderstorms are rare this far north in the winter. It takes rising heat to make them, and snow doesn’t give off much of it.

But the temperature today is sixty-five degrees at noon, the highest ever noted for February 24, and thunder rumbles around the shore of Good Harbor Bay. Because of the general grayness of the sky and the dampness of the air it is impossible to tell where the thunder originates. It rolls from one end of the sky to the other, or everywhere at once.

Then I see a flash to the west, in the gap in the hills behind Pyramid Point. As I watch, a freshening wind comes, ruffling the surface of the bay and bringing color to the water, subtle shades of green close to shore and blue farther out. The breeze reaches me; it is cold, refrigerated from its passage over the water. Rain drifts down across the bay, washing the bluffs white.

It is the slowest storm I have ever watched. Every few minutes a stroke of lightning lances earthward, stabbing hills. I count one-Mississippi, two- Mississippi, three-Mississippi, until, at the count of fifteen, thunder sounds. Three miles. A minute later there’s another flash, I count, hear thunder — and it is three miles again. The storm is approaching, but at a stroll.

Then lightning begins to strike water, and the storm makes progress at last. A wall of rain walks up the beach toward me. Heavy drops fall, raise spouts of sand a half inch in the air, and leave tiny craters. When the intervals between lightning and thunder grow brief, I retreat to the house.

Inside, I stand at the window and watch. Rain streaks the glass and obscures the view, then falls so hard I can’t see the lake. For a few moments, pellets of hail hop around on the boards of the deck as if its surface is too hot to bear. Lightning flashes in a general way, and thunder unfurls across a mile of air. The storm rumbles slowly past, its intentions serious, but the machinery rusty.

Excerpted with permission from LEELANAU: A PORTRAIT OF PLACE IN PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXT, with photos by Ken Scott and essays by Jerry Dennis, published by Petunia Press. Hardcover, $45. Copyright 2000, Jerry Dennis.

You can read other excerpts from books by Jerry Dennis in NMJ including Autumn Journeys (From a Wooden Canoe), Camp Coffee (From a Wooden Canoe), Waves (The Bird in the Waterfall) and Nature Baroque (It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes).

Photo credit: Better Stay off the Lake by farlane

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