Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sea Smoke or Winter comes to Lake Superior

The change from late autumn to early winter is often abrupt. Basically, overnight in fact. There I was, minding my own business, spacing out the entire month of November, when all of a sudden it's December and I am up to my eyeballs in snow. When it falls horizontally that isn't saying much, but we really did get a foot or two over a few days. Now the ground is covered and the frost probably won't penetrate down more than a few feet.
Late November:
A few days later in Early December:

Sea smoke is an interesting phenomenon. When the cold air from the arctic whooshes down upon us like a (insert clever analogy), the "heat " from the not quite frozen Lake Superior rises causing a mist or even a small spinning vortex of steam to be seen rising into the air. The temperature needs to be close to 0F (-17C) for this to occur in a noticeable way. This morning it was -10F (-24C) so it is definitely noticeable. In fact it gets so high over the lake that sunrise is delayed by about a half hour. But it makes for some interesting light. Sometimes you start to see things in the mist, but what?
Then you keep scanning the mist and there! I'm sure that is something. Look closely and you will see a ship plying through the cold inland sea.
Do you see it now?
Someday I may think I see the Flying Dutchman plying through the cold and dangerous waters of the big lake. The more likely thing, considering this area is sometimes referred to as the Scandinavian Riviera, might be to see the Flying Norwegian or the Flying Swede. If a person believes in ghosts or ghost ships Lake Superior would be a good place to see them. There are over 350 shipwrecks with more than a thousand lives lost in the relatively brief history of sailing on this lake. It demands respect from those who ply its waters.


  1. Beautiful! We're freezing here in San Francisco. 40 degrees.

  2. I've never heard the term "sea smoke" but it sounds like I would want to be out in it, with my camera in hand.

    The same kind of conditions cause the dreaded "lake effect snow" in Buffalo and elsewhere. One year, after we had already left Buffalo, they got something like 8 feet of snow over the course of two or three days.

    Nice pictures!

  3. Down here in my neck of the woods the river steams if the temp reaches freezing. Really steams at something like 20 degrees. But as Garrison Keillor would say, to you Norwegian bachelor farmer's, freezing is outright balmy.

  4. DB, I always considered SF to have a pretty nice year round climate. If only they could eliminate the plate tectonics.

    PP It is a very cool phenomenon. Thank goodness we are on the upwind side of things, usually.

    Mr.C, Freezing is pretty nice as long as it doesn't rain. That's a disaster this time of year.