2018-01-04 / Front Page

Yea, winter’s here!

20.5 inches in S-B
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

REBECCA LESSARD shows “Baby,” a recovered bald eagle, to a crowd of 200 people who gathered New Year’s Day for the rehabilitated bird’s release. Lessard is director of Wings of Wonder based in Empire. Frigid temps kept Baby grounded at the school, but she was later released and soared at Inspiration Point. 
— Photo byJennie Berkson REBECCA LESSARD shows “Baby,” a recovered bald eagle, to a crowd of 200 people who gathered New Year’s Day for the rehabilitated bird’s release. Lessard is director of Wings of Wonder based in Empire. Frigid temps kept Baby grounded at the school, but she was later released and soared at Inspiration Point. — Photo byJennie Berkson Mike Spencer picked a bad day to pick up his repaired snowblower in Traverse City.

The Bingham Township man was among dozens of county motorists who found themselves caught up in the paralyzing “snow-globe” that was Leelanau County Saturday.

“It was the worst driving conditions I’ve ever been in,” Spencer said. “I went 30 to 39 mph into town and only 20 to 25 on my way back. I had to stop three times on my way back to clear off my wipers,” he said.

And more winter is on the way, with the coldest temperatures so far expected to pounce on Leelanau today and tomorrow. Snow, which fell for 13 straight days ending Monday, is expected to resume into next week.

The National Weather Service forecast was unremarkable going into the holiday weekend with a couple inches of snow expected each day. But a wind shift —from the southwest to northwest — resulted in lake effect snow that dumped more than 20 inches of snow in some places.

Leif Sporck, who for several years has recorded snowfall at his home in Suttons Bay, put the day’s snowfall total at 20.5 inches.

“From 10 to noon the snow was falling the hardest,” Sporck said. “I was gone for 45 minutes to an hour and a half and by the time I got back, we had four inches.”

At the National Weather Service cooperative weather station in Maple City, just 8.5 inches were recorded Saturday.

Lake effect systems can be deceptive. It can be sunny in one location and a whiteout just a few miles down the road.

Such is the story of a Northport man who gave his “storm story” to Road Commission managing director Dan Wagner.

“When he started out, skies were sunny,” Wagner said recalling the story. “It took him two hours to get to Tom’s West Bay and when he got there, he turned around and went home.”

Indeed areas on the eastern shore of the Leelanau Peninsula appeared to be hardest hit, based on the blotter from the county’s emergency dispatch center.

Between 11:06 a.m. and 12:05 p.m. there were seven reports of vehicles in the ditch. Five of the seven were reported on the M-22 corridor from Peshawbestown south. The remaining two vehicles were further inland at E. Horn Road and Eagle Highway and Jacobson and Kolarik roads.

“Our biggest challenge was the rate of snowfall,” said Wagner, who estimates snow fell at a rate of 1 1/2 to 2 inches per hour at the height of the storm. “Our drivers would go out at 4 p.m., knowing the road was plowed at noon and there was snow up to the bumper.

“You’d go down a road and come back a couple hours later and couldn’t tell.”

Rapidly falling snow and reduced visibility also resulted in a number of “service calls” to which county deputies responded.

“There were a number of cars stuck in the road that bottomed out,” Sheriff Mike Borkovich said. “Everywhere people were stuck and broken down.”

Bruce Braden of Bingham Body and Towing knows all about that.

He and his son responded to 150 calls with their wreckers during a 25 to 30-hour period over the weekend. Most cars were found along M-22 and M-72.

“If they were near, we got to them more quickly — between one and two hours,” Braden said. “If you were further away, it was more like four or five.”

Calls ranged from pulling vehicles out of ditches and driveways to jump starts and car lockouts.

“Safety was a concern because of the poor visibility. We had all our lights flashing and didn’t have any close calls,” Braden said.

Spencer put his snowblower into action on his drive home from Traverse City. He started it up after getting his Prius stuck on M-22 near Shady Lane.

Then he used the blower to help free a woman whose car was also stuck in the roadway.

The poor driving conditions resulted in at least two county drivers parking their cars rather than driving any further.

In Elmwood Township about 3:20 p.m. county dispatchers received a call transferred from Grand Traverse County reporting that a woman intentionally ditched her Lincoln MKZ because she couldn’t see where she was going.

About 5:44 p.m., in the same township an unoccupied Cadillac was found sitting in the middle of Lakeview Hills Road west of Co. Rd. 633.

At one point Saturday there were reports on social media that the road commission had called all their trucks in to ride out the storm.

These reports were denied by the Road Commission’s Wagner.

“We told the guys to come back to the shop but none left the road,” he said. “We had 15 trucks or more out at one time.”

Wagner gives his department a B+ grade for its response to the storm.

“There are some things we could have done differently … Some we could have done better and we’re working hard to see these addressed.”

It appears Road Commission crews will have plenty of work in the days ahead.

Sporck reports his season snowfall total at 116 inches, which doesn’t include several inches that fell Wednesday morning.

And more is on the way, according to the National Weather Service.

The cold Arctic Air that spawned Saturday’s heavy snow-showers will continue to grip the county and much of the country. And there’s more snow on the way.

“It looks like it will continue through the weekend,” meteorologist Tim Locker said.

But the county’s proximity to the Great Lakes will all Leelanau County to escape what’s expected to be the coldest day of the winter today.

“You’re lucky. The lake will moderate temperatures,” Locker said.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for a high of 7 degrees today in Lake Leelanau, and just 10 degrees on Friday. The wind-chill is expected to come in at minus 10 to 18 grees.

Further inland in locations like Gaylord, the wind-chill is expected to drop to minus 20 and 40 degrees.

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