HOUGHTON – Even with advances in technology, getting weather reports from people on the ground is important.
Matt Zika, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Negaunee, spoke to about 20 people interested in providing weather updates during a talk in Houghton Tuesday.
Locally, radar reports can be incomplete because of the “Keweenaw shadow.” The radar beam has to point over the Huron Mountains, northwest of the Negaunee office. As a result, it will overshoot the tops of snow clouds.
A storm depositing 2 or 3 inches of snow per hour might not show up on the radar. That’s where observers come in.
“We take that information, we see the reports in any of our successive weather warnings, and people are more alert to the weather warnings storm, ” he said.
When providing weather reports, the most important information is what, when and for example, quarter-sized hail at 8:25 pm in Houghton.
“A lot of times we’ll get in real time, people taking the pictures that’s falling out on their deck, and they’re giving a location of where they are,” Zika said. “Nothing is more valuable than actually seeing what the person is actually looking for.”
As the climate warms, more extreme weather events are becoming more common, Zika said. The Upper Peninsula has been getting warmer and wetter. Of the 12 warmest years recorded at the station since 1960, nine have come since 2000, Zika said.
That doesn’t apply to all months across the board. In 19 of the past 20 Septembers, temperatures have been above normal, Zika said. Over the same span, April or May temperatures have been below normal 15 times.
“I think we can remember here over the last 10 or 15 years, some crazy April snowstorms and just some lousy months of April temperature-wise,” Zika said.
While there wasn’t much snow accumulation this April, there was measurable snowfall on 15 of 30 days, Zika said.
Growing seasons, as measured by the distance between the last spring frost and the first fall frost, are also getting longer.
Precipitation has rebounded from drought conditions seen in the early 2000s. From 2000 to 2011, the office saw and precipitation deficit of about 14 to 15 inches combined. Over the past decade, it’s seen 52 accumulated inches over the normal amount.
Though not usually on the level of the Father’s Day Flood, intense rainfall events are becoming more common in the summer.
“This isn’t just a local trend here in the Upper Peninsula or the Upper Great Lakes,” Zika said. “That’s across the country as a whole. So we have more instances of these thunderstorms that occur during the summertime that produces those 2- to 5-inch rain events over a two- to three-hour time period, that then are causing some issues. ”
In one recent example in Marquette County, 4 inches of rain caused the washout on County Road 510 between Negaunee and Big Bay.
For about 10 years, the NWS has sent wireless emergency alerts in the case of severe weather events. Up until two years ago, only an automatic warning. Since then, they’ve also added a higher-tier category for severe thunderstorms that have winds of 80 mph and / or baseball-sized hail.
Marginal flash flooding doesn’t generate an automatic alert. That is reserved for situations where the NWS anticipates “Considerable or catastrophic damage” such as that seen in Houghton in 2018, Zika said.
With the winter finally over (assuming this doesn’t jinx it), Zika also presented snowfall totals for the region. The Delaware measuring station recorded the highest in the UP at 326.6 inches, followed by Painesdale at 282.6 and Hancock-Quincy at 193.4. The NWS office in Negaunee recorded 204.7 inches, while downtown Marquette received only 106.
They measure every six hours, cleaning off their snowboard after each measurement. Many weather observers are getting readings once a day, during which time the snow compacts, Zika said.
Even weather professionals can be stymied by a strong wind.
“In those cases, we are walking around in the parking lot trying to figure out what the plow came and, and some areas that might give us a representative measurement as to what happened,” Zika said.
Reports can be submitted to the National Weather Service in several different ways:
By phone at 1-800-828-8002
From the web at weather.gov/mqt
From Facebook at NWSMarquette
Using the mPING app
From Twitter @NWSMarquette
By emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
By ham radio to WX8MQT