Yeah – that’s not really weather in the picture. But it’s a great picture. It’s the Aurora Borealis – or “Northern Lights” swirling above our city. We do get to see them here fairly often. One of the most amazing things you can ever see in person – really.
Duluth weather varies as much as you’d expect it to in a northern city hard on the world’s largest body of fresh water. Lake Superior is a wind tunnel for weather from the coldest reaches of Canada and beyond; it has a massive influence on temperature and precipitation; it beautifully imposes the same type of powerful, spiritual presence that mountains, oceans, and other natural bodies of such scale create; it is no joke. The shot below was taken just after sunrise on a -30 F January morning. The lake steams due to it’s relatively warm temp – creating “sea smoke”. Sea smoke turns to clouds – clouds to snow storms – which dump feet of snow on the eastern shore of the lake.
Don’t ever expect consistent weather in Duluth. Weather often is consistent here, but expecting it to be is a recipe for disappointment and discomfort at best, danger at worst. We’ve known 35º F in July, 70º F in February, sun showers of both snow and rain, fog for two solid weeks in June, 90º F for a week in September, and all other sorts of conditions that make this place a weather-geek’s dream.
As local pro rider Scott Kylander-Johnson says, “There could be a month during the summer when we don’t even ride mountain-biking trails because they’re too wet. I do more mountain biking in the winter than I do in the summer—the trails are smooth and fast, no rocks or roots. Fall can be a sketch-fest with wet leaves. In spring and fall, it can rain or hail or snow all day. In summer, it can rain or hail, and rocks and roots can be slick with humidity. We’re Belgium. If we had the kind of history they did, we’d have the same footage and lore.”
Check TV and radio forecasts, but also use your eyes, ears, nose, skin, and gut to figure out what you should wear. Cross-reference information from Web sites (WeatherUnderground.com, Weather.com, Duluth’s National Weather Service Forecast Office). Ask questions of folks who have Duluth-weather experience. Engage in the time-burnished Midwestern tradition of weather conversation with strangers.
Remember that temperatures by the lake can be 20 or 30 degrees cooler or more than temps up the hill! Downtown can be thick with fog and 40 degrees – while folks up the hill need sunglasses and temps are in the 70’s! No joke. On days like this a 20 – 30 minute drive will get you out of the fog. Conversely, it could be 90 degrees and humid over the hill and a very comfortable 75 near the lake. That’s pretty sweet!
Prepare, within reason, for the unexpected. If you’re into arm & leg warmers, they’re often not a bad idea, especially in spring and fall. If you carry a pack, keep a good, light shell or vest in it. Know where shelter is. Always have some food and more water than it seems like you’ll need. Carry a few bucks and a cell phone. Live to ride another day.