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With 23 feet of snow, this is the snowiest spot in the Great Lakes

Steve Orr
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Tom and Lani Poynter live atop a hill in Delaware, Michigan, a decidedly rural community that endured more than 23 feet of snow last year.

That made Delaware, nestled above the shore of icy Lake Superior, the snowiest spot in the Great Lakes.

But the Poynters weren’t there to endure it. They did no shoveling, plowing or marveling at the sheer volume. They’re snowbirds who migrate south before the first flakes fly each year. They’re leaving again next week.

Enjoying the snow on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula (2016 photo)

"I haven’t lived up here in the winter since the '80s. When you get older, it’s not as much fun," said Tom Poynter, who with his wife owns an historic copper mine that draws tourists in the summertime. "We come back when I call my friends and they say the snow is gone from the driveway."

Delaware, or more precisely an official snow-measuring spot a few miles from Delaware on the grounds of an abandoned air force radar station, recorded 278.1 inches of snow last winter season.

The award, devised by the D&C, will go to the Great Lakes community with the most snow each winter.

That made little Delaware the winner of the 2019-20 Golden Snowdrift Award — given annually by the USA Today Network to the most snow-laden spot in the Great Lakes. The nearest competitor had three feet less.

The five huge Great Lakes are colossal snow-making machines. Their relative warm water interacts with cold wintry winds to create clouds of lake-effect snow, which falls to earth near the lakes' downwind shores for months on end.

The first two years the Golden Snowdrift was awarded, it went to Redfield, a small community on the Tug Hill Plateau at Lake Ontario's eastern end. One year, Redfield measured nearly 400 inches of snow.

In 2018-19, however, the snowfall title shifted to Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, the state's far-northern tip, when the village of Calumet was named winner. Calumet is a few miles south of Delaware.

The Keweenaw and Tug Hill are generally the two snowiest areas of the Great Lakes, though other locations can surge to the top if the right weather patterns persist.

But last winter, it was Delaware's turn.

"It was pretty normal for what we’re used to. We had snow all the way to May — fresh snow in May, absolutely. That’s the why-do-I live-here? snow," said Liisa Koljonen, a clerk with the Keweenaw County Road Commission, which conducts the daily snow measurements in Delaware.

We’ve already had snow this year. A little sprinkling, just a few flakes, and they stuck to the grass," said Koljonen, pride creeping into her voice. "We generally don’t report those slushy kind of snows when they show up in October, or in this case September. That’s the teasing kind."

What about us?

Rochester had 91.8 inches of snow last winter, which is slightly above the long-term average. November was notably snowy and March was notably non-snowy. In between, our snow was typical.

The Rochester area, like many other spots on the Great Lakes, gets a good share of lake-effect snow. But because of local geography, this area seldom gets the multi-foot bursts of lake snow that some places get.

As for the coming winter, a La Niñaevent, or a cooling of the waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, is underway. La Niñas are associated with greater-than-normal snowfall in the northernmost part of the country, an effect that can carry over into upstate New York.

Heavy snows will be possible — but then, they always are.

Contact watchdog reporter Steve Orr at or at (585) 258-2386. Follow him on Twitter at @SOrr1. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. If you don't already have a digital subscription, please sign up today.