Surviving a blizzard off the grid
With the recent early snow that hit the Midwest and especially Buffalo NY, I was reminded of a blizzard that hit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, when I lived deep in the woods, totally off-grid. That kind of life-style is not for the faint of heart; it’s a lot of work, it’s dangerous and it’s also very rewarding.
Winters here in the UP can be brutal, with cold temperatures and heavy snows. If you understand that and prepare to deal with it, those snow falls can be beautiful. But you must also respect what can happen. Blizzards can occur in a heartbeat. Fortunately, our national weather service has been getting better at prognostication and we get sufficient warning to stay home. Our biggest variable is “lake effect”. That’s when cold air sweeps across the warmer water and picks up moisture. On the southern shore of Lake Superior (which is the northern shore of the Upper Peninsula) that’s a mighty big lake! Winds and wind direction play a big part in the amount of snow and the duration. For me, the NE winds are the worse and can double or even triple what we get. But all the great lakes can and do have lake effect snow, just ask Buffalo.
Only three of the five great lakes actually join the state of Michigan: Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron, but those three surround us. Lakes Erie and Ontario are along the chain further east, but those also are part of Canada, as are Huron and Superior, with Lake Michigan the only one within the borders of the CONUS (Continental United States). They are also the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. Pretty awesome. Okay, enough of the geography lesson.
I recall a discussion, that was more of an argument, over the difference between snow blindness and a whiteout. A white out condition occurs during one of those blizzards. Plain and simple: you can’t see! Well, you can’t see anything except the snow falling or the snow blowing, and not being able to see anything for more than a foot or two in front of you can be pretty terrifying. It’s very easy to get lost in a blizzard. Snow blindness, on the other hand comes after the snow has stopped. The skies clear to a brilliant blue and the sun comes out … and reflects off of all that snow. It is literally blinding, and you can’t see. The major hazard is if you don’t have or find some eye protection, the intense glare can damage your eyes – permanently.
That time in the woods for me was a blizzard and snow falling at the rate of three inches per hour created a near white-out condition. It was incredibly beautiful – from inside the house that is, where I was warm and cozy with plenty to eat and drink. I did have to go out in it, and it was very unsettling to say the lease. But I had a trail to follow and it was virtually impossible to get lost, which brings up snowshoeing. It’s a great sport and a failsafe method of transportation. As long as you’re not in a blizzard, it’s impossible to get lost while on snow shoes: you just turn around and follow your tracks back!