Sea Smoke

George Ilstrup


A winter on the North Shore is not for the faint of heart, as the temperature often drops below 0 degrees and stepping foot outside can be a chore. If you can deal with your car not starting 100% of the time, or not feeling your toes when you take your dog for a walk, the shore boasts some unbelievable phenomena’s. One of them being Sea Smoke. If the air is still and cold enough, wisps of “smoke” will appear, which is actually water vapor that forms when really cold air moves over relatively warmer water. The “warmer” water below generally sits at a frigid 33-35 degrees. When the water vapor rises, the cold air above can only hold so much moisture which forces the water to condense into a fog. The fog then rises like smoke from the lake’s surface. The term fog is somewhat ironic when describing the “Sea Smoke” as fog occurs when warm air moves over cold water. On some days, when the smoke is paired with a heavy dose of cold wind from the north, “Steam Devils” may form, which are tornado-esk looking rising clouds.

The smoke draws in hundreds of visitors, and many of them have a camera in their hand, all in search of the perfect photo. The cliffs along the shore of Superior offer a perfect spot for viewing the smoke if you are willing to endure the sub-zero temps. We recommend finding a spot about 700 feet above Lake Superior, which will give you the best angle to capture the smoke rolling over the water. And if you are lucky, you might even be able to capture a ship looming in the background.

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