The winter of 1835-36 was a long and severe one after a number of mild winters in the early 1830s. It was called the â??Starving Timeâ?? because of its length and severity in the Grand River Valley of the Lower Peninsula. Farther north, the intrepid Catholic missionary Fredric Baraga spent his first winter in the Lake Superior region that year at La Pointe on the Apostle Islands of northwest Wisconsin. In June 1836 he wrote: â??The winter of 1835-36 was very long and severe. As late as June 7th large blocks of ice were to be seen along the lakeshore.â??
The famous ice blockade of 1873 saw ice in Marquette Harbor well into June (Image 2). Legend has it that Fourth of July picnickers cooled there drinks with left-over ice still floating in the Lake (I am skeptical of this claim.). On June 20, 1857 after â??The Severest Winter Ever Knownâ?? on the Minnesota frontier, The Lake Superior Journal, which was then published in Marquette, featured a rant from a reporter who complained that the steamer Northstar avoided Marquette Harbor due to the ice when other boats had sailed in.
The last time we had a winter where the ice stuck around until the beginning of June was back in 1996 (Image 1 above). This past winter, there wasnâ??t near as much ice development though there was more than the past couple of years. The reason for more ice that lasted longer is obvious; it was colder than average late this winter into spring (Image 3 above).
The surface water of Lake Superior is cold at present, though not unusually so. The temperature at the buoy north of Copper Harbor was 38 degrees this afternoon, while off Ontonagon it was only 37. Thatâ??s why a shift in wind off the Lake can mean a quick drop in temperature. If our weather and the Lake behave the way they usually do, the water will stay quite cold until around the Fourth of July and then warm rapidly to a peak in late August and early September.