Now That’s a Storm

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June 30th 2018
Published: June 30th 2018
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Apostle Islands Area Campground, Bayfield, Wisconsin

Yesterday started sunny and cheerful. We got everything hitched up and even felt we had time to take a shower before hitting the road. We were late, 11:00, getting started, but we only had about 240 miles to go and, besides, we were moving from Eastern to Central time, so we were gaining an hour. The drive really did go well, and we made it here with ample time to check in, unhitch, and make camp.

But there was an hour or so that I didn’t think we would make it at all.

Just about the time we hit the road, grey clouds started to build over Lake Superior. That’s not all that surprising - they do that from time to time and sometimes spill over onto land, dousing the soil with a little rain. By the time we hit Calumet, about thirty or forty minutes down the road, the skies were turning a much darker gray. Things weren’t looking real normal anymore. Now I had heard about the rain forecasts for the peninsula, but the forecast was clear just an hour or so beyond Houten, so my objective was simply to move forward, reasonably fast and try to get out of the rain zone.

If you recall, Houten was the site of a major blow-out rain storm nearly two weeks ago. They received nearly seven inches of rain in just two hours and the resulting flood killed a little boy and wiped out lots of streets - just clean washed them away. It was declared a disaster area and both times we had been there, we saw National Guard dump trucks working to haul away the debris. Houten is built on one side of a river valley and the streets are very steep - water wouldn’t accumulate there but would rush quickly to the river below. Hancock is built on a similar steep slope just on the other side of the river.

So we are driving out of Calumet and headed for Hancock on US 41, the main artery on the peninsula. To go where we want to go, we have no real choice but to head down through Hancock, cross the bridge, and then ascend up the Houten-side before heading west - there are no other options. But heading out of Calumet, it starts to get really dark. So dark, in fact, that the headlights on the car actually turn on full. This isn’t a normal bank of clouds, these are really intense clouds more like thick smoke.

A little further on we see something that was pretty scary. Underneath this thick bank of smoky clouds, we see rolling in a whiter cloud. But it isn’t just coming in like clouds like to do. This thing is pouring in at a remarkable speed. I’m not real good at estimating speeds of things, especially in the distance. But this cloud, which was at least ten miles away, moved across the field of vision in a matter of a few seconds. Frankly, it looked like what I would have imagined the storm in Houten had been like two weeks ago.

Soon after that high-speed cloud moved down through the valley, the wind came up and skies opened up with a deluge of biblical proportions. The wind was intense enough to cause the trailer to bounce around and I decided that safety required we get off the road. I turned on the emergency blinkers and drove onto the shoulder. And the rain came down so intensely that it sounded more like hail. The windshield wipers had no chance against these walls of water.

After a few minutes the rain and wind lightened enough that I could see a little ways down the highway. Fearful that Houten was just about to experience another major flood, and not desiring to be caught on the wrong side of it, I decided to plod along and try to get down the streets of Hancock, across the bridge, and up the other side.

We made it. The whole event lasted only about a half-an hour, but it was easily the most intense storm I have ever witnessed. After leaving the rain zone, we stopped at a convenience store for some coffee and to try to calm down our nerves. We talked to the store clerk and she said she, also, had never experienced a storm like that - and she’s lived her most of her life.

We’ve read and heard about ‘lake effect’ storms for years now. Since this storm came in from the lake, I have to believe that it had something to do with it. But if even the residents are saying that they have never seen anything like it, then we know something else is going on. That’s two huge, very unusual, storms in ten days - that’s just not right! Global warming science predicts more intense storms as a result of increased energy in both the water and the air. If this isn’t proof of that, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, the rest of the trip was fairly easy. We had a couple of detours on the road, caused by road washouts from the previous storm. But they didn’t add too much to the trip. We headed west to Ironwood where we stopped for lunch at Brewsters Northwoods bar and grill. Service was a little strange there - the bartender didn’t seem to know much about his job. But the stuffed baked potato, a one-pounder, was pretty good. I wouldn’t go out of the way to eat there, but if in Ironwood...

After crossing the border into Wisconsin, we headed up to the northern reaches of that state and the town of Bayfield. This is the one place where Joan wasn’t able to get the campground reservations she had wanted. Big Bay state park, on Madeline Island, which has more than 250 campsites, was completely booked up for this weekend. Joan was making reservations back in January.

So we ended up at this campground, a privately run affair kind of up in the hills a little southwest of Bayfield proper. Its not a bad place, as far as private campgrounds go. But it is expensive, they charge premium prices for things like firewood and ice, and, for the first time on this trip, the showers are coin-operated instead of free. State parks remain our campgrounds of choice - but apparently other people like them too!

Another storm came through here last night around 4:30, and it is still overcast and grey as I write this. Probably will be another down day today, although I’m hoping we can get to the park visitor center to start planning our visit. We have one park here - the last National Lakeshore - and Joan has a few rebellion items planned for Madeline Island and downtown Bayfield. She is also talking about trying to get back on her bicycle - we shall see how that plays out. We’re here for the next week, so there will be plenty to write about. (I’m also hoping to finish my Isle Royal blogs.)


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