Midwest Winter Report: Thundersnow!

Live from the snowed-in Midwest, Map Editor Andrew Matranga reports on a bizarre winter-weather phenomenon: thundersnow.

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I am currently traveling in the Midwest, trying to get some work done in between shovelfuls of heavy, lake effect snows in Chicago. Hundreds are still stuck on Lake Shore Drive downtown, and the region’s highways are closed and snowed under.

But last night’s snowstorm that whacked the Chicagoland area and is still gripping most of the nation brought out an interesting weather phenomenon known as a Thundershower — when lightning and snow fall at the same time.

Here along Lake Michigan’s western shore, we were getting massive claps of lightning, booming thumps of thunder, and 50-mile per hour winds blasting the Chicagoland area. It was surreal to be in both a whiteout and a thunder storm. We were even seeing graupel-like sleet/hail, a weather occurrence far more common at higher elevations than our lake-level height.


But for the hiking set, the question is this: how does this information when trapped at home in the city help when you’re in the backcountry? Well, navigation acumen and barometric knowledge are essential skills for safe and effective cross-country travel and daylong adventures that take you into different climate zones. For more about reading about weather, check out our newest pocket-sized Falcon guide BACKPACKER Magazine’s Predicting Weather: Forecasting, Planning, and Preparing.

Anecdotally and not-so ironically, I was stranded last year inside the Washington, DC during that region’s historic, week-long Snowpocalypse. My wife was eight months pregnant at the time, and after a week of being cooped up in the house due to a downed tree that trapped out car, she decided to take the situation into her own hands. She ended up on the local news after a tip to their news desk from a concerned citizen (me). So this makes two big February snows in a row.

Since I’m our resident geography buff and map geek, here’s a short GPS track that I created using the BACKPACKER GPS Trails app for Android during my morning shoveling session–great cross-training for snowshoeing the Indian Peaks Wilderness just up the mountain from the BACKPACKER home office in Boulder, Colorado!

Happy shoveling,

-Andrew Matranga, BACKPACKER Map Editor