Leap day storm hammers Duluth

For the last 48 hours, the hash tag #leapdaystorm has taken over the Twitter feeds of those who live in Duluth and the surrounding areas. A blizzard was forecast as early as this past Sunday and with every passing hour, the forecast confidence kept increasing. Then leap day came. The blizzard was supposed to arrive late Tuesday night, but its arrival kept getting pushed back and back and back. It seemed to be an all too familiar script that had played out over the last few years.  Blizzard knocks on Duluth’s doorsteps and gets pushed back by Lake Superior.  I woke up at 3:30am and rushed to the window.  It wasn’t Christmas, but it felt like it.  What did I see?  Nothing.  The blizzard had not arrived.  I went to bed hoping that within a few hours when my alarm clock rang that there would be whiteout conditions, seven feet of snow on the ground and gale force winds.  I would not be disappointed.

I woke up at 7:00am to the sound of a garbage can tipping over. This has to be a good sign I thought.  Sure enough, outside the snow was blowing, drifting, cars were caked in snow and ice and the wind was howling. Luckily I had switched cars with my mother-in-law so I had four-wheel drive.  For the next six hours, I’d be driving all over Duluth and the north shore gathering blizzard scenes.  When these storms blanket Duluth, I’m like a kid.  I can’t stay inside.  I have to get out.  Canal Park is an easy choice.  The winds coming off Lake Superior are so strong that they will make you stumble if you stand straight up.  Walk into the wind and your eyes will be pelted with ice and snow flying at 60+ miles per hour off the lake. It hurts, but it’s so fun.  The waves are gigantic, the wind is deafening and it’s an exhilarating feeling.  Heading down to Canal Park when a blizzard comes in is one of my favorite things to do in Duluth.

All that aside, I was covering the storm for Minnesota Public Radio and I was able to get some shots of people battling the elements and another of my favorite scenes… Lake Superior surfers.  These guys enter the 50 degree water in their wetsuits and ride out the waves whenever a blizzard or very strong winds come to Minnesota’s north shore.  The shots below were from a popular surfing locale called Stony Point.

Now I’m back home with the family and not looking forward to all the shoveling, but if I have to shovel to experience blizzards like these, I’ll gladly grab the shovel and get to work.

Nonnie Socholotuk braves high winds and stinging snow to film the waves and conditions along Lake Superior in Canal Park with his iPhone early Wednesday morning in Duluth, Minn. “I started at Brighton Beach and am making all the stops along the lake,” Socholotuk said.

Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge was shrouded in heavy snow and high winds Wednesday morning as blizzard conditions swept across the city.

Rachel Hagel (left) and Betty Suihkonen (right) run from a large wave Wednesday morning along the shore of Lake Superior as blizzard conditions swept over Duluth, Minn.

From left: Katie Davis, 11, Brooke Heikkila, 10, Anna Davis, 10, and Andrew Davis, 8, work on building a snowman in Duluth’s Congdon neighborhood Wednesday morning as blizzard conditions swept across the city. The heavy, wet snow made for perfect snowman constructing.

Blizzard conditions swept across Duluth, Minn. as seen here at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Superior Street in downtown Duluth.

Vitta Pizza in Duluth’s Canal Park faces Lake Superior and was taking the brunt of heavy snow and high winds Wednesday morning in Duluth, Minn.

Visibility was less than a block in many parts of Duluth, Minn. early Wednesday morning as a blizzard swept across parts of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota .

Eli Whitmore walks through blizzard conditions Wednesday morning as a high winds and heavy snow swept across Duluth, Minn.

Larry Menz of Esko, Minn. shovels the sidewalk in downtown Duluth, Minn. Wednesday morning as a blizzard swept across the city.

Markus Barsch of Mason, Wisc. surveys the waves before heading out to surf at Stony Point north of Duluth, Minn. High winds from a blizzard sweeping across northern Minnesota made for great surfing conditions.

Surfers took advantage of the high winds and waves at Stony Point north of Duluth, Minn. Wednesday morning as blizzard conditions swept across northern Minnesota.

Surfers descended on Stony Point north of Duluth, Minn. as blizzard conditions swept across northern Minnesota.

Jake Pearson of Duluth, Minn. watches his friends surf Wednesday afternoon at Stony Point in Duluth, Minn. Pearson was surfing earlier in the day, but his wet suit tore and he was reduced to watching. High winds from a blizzard sweeping across northern Minnesota made for great surfing conditions.