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Upper Peninsula,Snow

Where’s the Snow?

The year 2020 will be remembered for a lot of different things by a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. Most, I’m sure, will call it the worst year since the plague and possibly say that COVID-19 is even worse. Some may call it the year that Murphy’s Law ran amuck and anything that could go wrong did just that! A few will even say it was the year when our government exercised too much over-reach and demanded too much, replacing rights with restrictions, or when crime and corruption became the new norm for our nation.

For winter recreation enthusiasts, it will probably be remembered as the year without a winter, unless things turn around pretty darn soon. In fact, it’s beginning to look a lot like another near-snowless winter! In recent years, we have broken records for both the snowiest seasons and those when the minimum snowfall didn’t come close to the previous lowest ever recorded. This is not just a single state or even a regional issue; this is a nationwide concern — and not just for the winter enthusiasts, but also for those winter-related businesses that rely on a snowy season to survive.

A couple of months prior to the official beginning of snowmobile season, clouds dominated the northern hemisphere, and on more than one occasion, snow fell in quantities for use of snow machines, but it wasn’t really the time or even legal to do so. Then warmer weather came, and the accumulated snow disappeared. For the next several weeks, the weather patterns resembled a roller coaster with as many dips in temperature to below freezing as there were climbing into the 40s and even into the 50s. A short period of flurry activity would be just enough to make the ground white, but then the sunshine would melt it away within a few hours and only bare ground remained.

Upper Peninsula,Snow
December 1st – Most trails are nearly snowless for beginning day of snowmobile season.

Sure, many of the old timers were overjoyed with the current climate and told anyone who would listen about snowstorms of the past where one couldn’t even get out of their homes due to excessive snow depth. Most were happy with the lack of the white stuff, but kept saying when it comes, it will be with a vengeance and we will be wishing we still had this “good weather.” From several conversations with anxious individuals seeking information about snow conditions, it was clear not everyone shared in the no-snow peace of mind.

It is a rare occurrence indeed when Michigan’s Lower Peninsula gets more snow than the Upper Peninsula does, and even more rare when the Detroit area sees snow and Yooper land doesn’t, but that’s what has happened so far this season. In fact, as of Dec. 10, temperatures climbed into the 40s again with just some isolated snow flurries, mostly in the Keweenaw and nowhere else. As the northern Lower was bracing for yet another round of approaching snow, possibly up to a foot or more, only the extreme eastern tip of the Upper Peninsula was in the storm’s path.

Upper Peninsula,Snow
Middle of January and still not enough snow to groom on most Michigan trails.

Not since the closing months of December 2017 and all the way into early March of 2018 has there been such a snow-drought across the land. A large majority of snowbelt states were suffering without the snow. Many businesses that depend on snow seekers and other travelers for their source of winter revenue were having a tough time making ends meet, so much so that many had to layoff a number of their employees, which just made the overall problem that much more exasperating.

Now, with COVID still holding our state and many others in its grip, winter tourism has decreased to the point where many businesses have had to close, and reports that a few will be closed permanently is never a good thing. A few diehard enthusiasts are trying to make the best of it, but with most restaurants and taverns still closed to any indoor dining, the communities that are normally thriving look more like ghost towns.

With the first two months of snowmobile season gone and most areas still without sufficient snow for anything other than skiing or riding a toboggan down a hill, it’s looking like the 2020-21 season may well be one of the worst on record — but there’s always hope it will turn around and the snows will eventually come. As we ended the first full week of the new year, we still are without sufficient snow to even adequately groom the trails. I am constantly being asked, “Where’s the snow?” One local resident told me just the other day, “Don’t fret. We’ve seen conditions like this before, and it will be OK … just better late than never.” We can only hope he’s right.

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