The coldest weather of the long, bitter winter of 1856-57 occurred on February 10 when the village of Ontonagon reached 35 degrees below zero. That same morning, an alcohol thermometer at Fort Ripley in Minnesota plunged to 50 below and another nearby registered 56 below. The extremely cold reading on the shore of Lake Superior at Ontonagon indicates there was no moderation off Lake Superior; the Lake west and northwest of the village was frozen over. Today, the lake shows a couple of open spots, but is nearly frozen over (Image above). The shifting winds keep breaking apart the ice and shifting the open areas while ice keeps forming due to the continued cold weather.
About mid-February 1857, a group of Ontonagon villagers got together and the question was asked: â??How many storms have we had this winter?â?? The majority decided â??one, with few and short interruptions.â?? The weather had never been calm for over two days and nights in succession since Christmas. Snow depths during this time reached nearly five feet on the level in the mining district to the southeast.
There was no relief as the sun angle rose and the calendar said spring. A series of storms hit the U.P. in April, maintaining a deep snow cover. It wasnâ??t until May 13 that the last pile of snow melted underneath the window of Bishop Baragaâ??s home at Sault Ste. Marie. Four days later he wrote, â??Bravo spring! O you delightful, charming month!â??Month of Ice!â?? This tinge of sarcasm revealed Baragaâ??s frustration on May 16 after he noted, â??today it snowed again heavily.â?? Marquetteâ??s local newspaper carried a story about a steamer bypassing Marquette during June 1857. The captain of the ship didnâ??t want to get stuck in the ice that was still clogging the harbor!
The winter of 1856-57 was extreme, yet it wasnâ??t a usual occurrence. The next winter, Baragaâ??s diary revealed a huge swing in temperature to the mild side, with little snow and no ice on New Yearâ??s Day.
The remarkable winter of 2013-14 keeps rolling on. February is running around 10 degrees below average through the first 10 days of the month. We have already accrued 42 days with low temperatures of zero or below this winter. The record on the hill for the entire winter is 49 days set in the winter of 1978-79. While it does look like a moderating trend in temperatures will take hold over the next couple of weeks, there is still plenty of winter left and that record (along with the number of consecutive days at or below freezing) is certainly attainable.