50 inches - and a yardstick won't do
When Alice Findley used her official National Weather Service snow gage to take a measurement outside her house Wednesday afternoon, the neon-pink yardstick disappeared into the white.
"It's only 36 inches long and we had 39 inches of snow on the ground,'' Findley told the Duluth News Tribune that day.
On Thursday morning, an additional 11 inches were on the ground at her Two Harbors home.
"Fifty inches! I've never in my life...," she said with a chuckle.
Findley is the Weather Service snow reporter who lives in the woods 5 miles north of town. Her report for the three-day storm as of 6 p.m. Wednesday was 42inches, with snow still falling.
That's about double most of the snow reports from across the Northland.
"I love it. I love the snow,'' she said, "we're a good line of snow lovers." Asked how she and husband Dan are faring and moving the snow now that the worst is over, she quipped: "I have a big Irish husband!"
That's a good thing because the Findleys live in one of the snowiest places in Minnesota - high on top of the big hill that leads away from Lake Superior. That extra altitude helps squeeze more snow out of the clouds during typical passing storms, and the topography of specific areas can make a difference.
The hill away from the lake is also is the perfect place for so-called lake-effect snow to fall. That's snow produced by moisture lifting out of the relatively warm lake, cooling in the air and then falling back to Earth as it blows on shore. It hits Findley's area during south, east and even northeast winds.
Lake effect snow can happen on its own or, as was the case this week, it can enhance a storm that's moving across the region.
Minnesota's highest seasonal snow totals generally run along the North Sore highlands, from roughly Proctor, through hilltop Duluth, past Findley's home, up to Wolf Ridge near Finland and ending at about the Gunflint Trail uphill from Grand Marais.
Steve Gohde, the Weather Service coordinator for snow reporters in the Duluth region, said Findley may have been recording some drifting of snow as well as falling snow, accounting for her unusually high total. He noted another weather reporter just two miles away was more than a foot less.
But Findley said she took multiple readings at various locations in her yard and that the snow was deeper than the measuring stick in all locations.
Dan Miller, science and operations manager for the Duluth Weather Service, said Findley is smack in the middle of that North Shore highlands snow belt.
"I'm not sure if this storm total is actually that high or not. But, either way, it's clear there are going to be some close to three-foot totals along that (North Shore) ridge and, within that area, there are always some favored areas that will get more,'' Miller said. "But moose don't send in snow reports, so we don't get good numbers for the more remote areas up there. We don't know how many of those favored areas there are."
Alice and Dan are retired but don't head south for winter. They love to snowshoe and ski and they love keeping track of all that snow for the Weather Service in Duluth. They have also raised a second generation of snow lovers; their daughter is Ann Wiszowaty, second-grade teacher at North Shore Community School. Wiszowaty was one of 11 teachers nationwide recently recognized for her outstanding approach to environmental education.
Before moving to their current home two years ago, they reported to the Weather Service for their home along the Gunflint trail.
"We had big storms there, too. Maybe not quite this big,'' Alice said Wednesday. "But one year, I think it was 2004, we had a total of 250 inches for the winter."
That's nearly 21 feet of snow.
"It's just beautiful out there,'' she said. "But we don't need that much again."