Northern Michigan winter weather: Worst cold snap since 2011
This satellite image shows how clouds are whipped into bands by shearing winds cutting through sinking and rising air ¿ all necessary components of lake effect snow, according to Nick Schwartz, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gaylord. (Courtesy photo / January 25, 2013)
It usually takes about an hour and half, said Michael Mann, a Grain Train employee.
Wednesday was a little bit of a different story. The 6.1 inches of snow Petoskey received by 7 a.m. on Wednesday, and the bitter temperatures made for a perfect mix of "no way that truck is going to get into that parking lot."
It also didn't help that it was the driver's second day on the job, he had just moved north from Florida, and had never been to Northern Michigan, said Mann.
The driver circled the block for an hour, trying different ways of backing into the parking lot. Traffic was difficult, so Grain Train employees called the city police to help block off the street.
Still no dice.
"It was a circus of errors," said Mann.
The closest the driver could get the truck to the store? The 7-Eleven parking lot. So for the next few hours, six Grain Train employees loaded flatbed carts with pallets of groceries, hauled them through the snowy parking lot of 7-Eleven, then up the unplowed sidewalk of Mitchell Street in the bitter cold, and through the Grain Train receiving door.
"I have never hurt so much after work," said Mann. "My legs and back were totally fried."
It was just bad luck that the delivery truck driver happened to start his job in Northern Michigan during the worst cold snap the area has seen since January 2011, according to the Gaylord office of the National Weather Service. That week, temperatures dipped into the single digits for nine days in January, and North Central Michigan College recorded a low of minus 17 on Jan. 24, said meteorologist Nick Schwartz.
"This was absolutely something we didn't see last winter, these types of arctic outbreaks with lots of cold air originating from northern Canada," said Schwartz. "It's certainly been a while — two years — since we've seen that type of cold."
Between Jan. 21-24, North Central Michigan College reported 13.9 inches of snow, and Schwartz expected that another two fell Thursday night into today, Friday morning.
The snow has been mostly lake-effect.
"It's not unheard of to get several strings of days of persistent lake effect, if the set-up is right," said Schwartz.
That set-up includes a combination of cold air, instability in the atmosphere over the Great Lakes, and sufficient wind shear. The bands of warm and cold air rise and sink, and create bands of snow and clearer skies.
"(The) sun can be out at one moment and clouds and blizzard-like conditions move in the next," said Schwartz.
Schwartz said the outlook for the weekend and early next week is a little warmer — low- to mid-20s for today, Friday, same forecast for Saturday and Sunday, high in the mid-20s. Monday may even get up to around freezing, and Tuesday could see mid-30s. But after that, temperatures could sink right back down.
"It's hinting at a brief cold snap coming in for next weekend," said Schwartz.
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