Monday, January 17, 2022

‘It was like being on another planet’: Sand sculptures litter Lake Michigan beach

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“It was like another planet,” Terri Abbott told Fox 2. “I’ve never seen anything like it and I spend a lot of time there!” Tiscornia Park is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, approximately 190 miles west of Detroit.

A walk along Lake Michigan this week was akin to strolling through a museum gallery, as several weather elements came together to create an incredible phenomenon. Small, delicate sand sculptures casually littered the beach at Tiscornia Park in St. Joseph, Mich.

Photographer Joshua Nowicki has captured many incredible photos of the phenomenon and other beautiful Midwestern winter scenes and says the sculptures are nature’s fleeting creations.

“They don’t last very long. The wind completely erodes them or knocks them over. When the temperature rises above freezing, they disintegrate, and in winter they are often soon covered by blowing snow,” Nowicki told Colossal. This year’s sculptures are the largest he’s ever seen, with the largest measuring about 15 inches tall.

The otherworldly phenomenon is caused when a combination of weather elements occur simultaneously: wind, cold, and snow or rain. The wind erodes the frozen sand, slightly wet from precipitation, then the cold air holds the intricate shapes in place.

Alan Arbogast, the chair of the Department of Geography at Michigan State University, who also studies the state’s dunes, explained to Fox 2 how the sand formations are formed, just like a sculptor carves stone until a shape is formed.

“I can imagine that the sand is frozen. Then a few weeks ago a big storm with strong winds rolled through. The wind blew along the beach and blew up the areas that were a little less frozen,” he explained. “These things don’t get built up. Everything around the features that stand up has been eroded away. Those are the things that get left behind.”

As with much of the country, parts of Michigan experienced cold weather and strong winds in early January, creating perfect conditions for the phenomenon to occur. Brutally cold air from the Arctic forced its way through the north-central states and into the Northeast.

Gusty conditions in parts of the Midwest made the outside air feel even colder than the thermometer reading as AccuWeather RealFeel® temperatures in northeastern Iowa, northern Illinois and central Michigan at times fell below zero. AccuWeather forecasters say Tuesday was the region’s coldest day of winter so far. Monday’s high was 20 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of 15 degrees. Temperatures dropped to as low as 11 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday night.

The average high temperature for this time of year in St. Joseph is 34 with an average low of 20 according to the latest 30 year climate normals. Meanwhile, lake water temperatures across the Great Lakes have been above normal this winter, with Lake Michigan’s water temperature being 1.1 degrees above average as of this week.

While the frigid temperatures aren’t ideal for humans, it’s clearly the perfect weather for forming these sandy creations, which prompted several people, including meteorologist Dave Caulfield, to brave the cold for some stunning shots. The outdoors is incredible and can sometimes make freezing temperatures a little more bearable.

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