climate

Purple signifies the extreme cold in the U.S.
NWS

The temperatures certainly are extreme. Last night, it was colder in Michigan than it was at the South Pole.

Parts of the state saw temperatures reach 16 below zero with wind chills exceeding 40 below zero.

The "polar vortex" has brought air to the Midwest that normally stays way up in the arctic.

The stat comes from Jeff Reutter, Director of Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory. He says the converse is true for Lake Superior. It holds 50% of the water, but just 2% of the fish.

It's a rough estimate, he says, but it gives you a good understanding of how each of the five Great Lakes have unique characteristics, which present unique challenges in managing these lakes.

As part of our series on how climate change is affecting the Great Lakes, Reutter spoke to us about how Lake Erie is especially vulnerable to temperature variations. It is the southernmost, and the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.

He also spoke about how, unlike the other four Great Lakes, Lake Erie is surrounded by agriculture and a more urbanized landscape.

You can listen to him speak about his "50 and 2 Rule" here:

Lake Erie has seen a resurgence in blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) over the last ten years. It was once a big problem in the 60s and 70s, and it has returned as a problem again.

Tom Grundy / Flickr

This past summer brought us challenging days in terms of heavy rain, thunderstorms, and sewers unable to handle the fast and furious downpours.

And that is giving scientists cause for concern.

Dr Larissa Larsen is an associate professor in the Urban and Regional Planning Program at the University of Michigan and she joined us in the studio.

Listen to the audio above.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The number of motorcyclists who died in traffic accidents in Michigan last year rose 18-percent.

About a year ago Michigan became the thirty-first state to allow people to ride motorcycles without helmets.

But Michigan State Police warn one year isn't enough time to say whether the changes to the helmet law had anything to do with this year’s spike in motorcycle deaths.

The redder the higher the difference from average temperature, June-August 2012
NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center reported today that the summer of 2012 "was the third hottest summer on record for the contiguous United States since recordkeeping began in 1895."

They looked at records from June through August of 2012 (summer is technically over on the morning of September 22).

...the average temperature for the contiguous United States between June and August was over 74° Fahrenheit, which is more than 2° F above the twentieth-century average. Only the summers of 2011 and 1936 have had higher summer temperatures for the Lower 48.

The online weather service, the Weather Underground, has compiled data that allows users to look at how their local climate has changed over the years.

It also allows users to see how local the climate is expected to change in the coming years using two different IPCC greenhouse gas emissions models.

Wunderground.com

A popular Ann Arbor-based online weather service is offering a new feature on its website. At the Weather Underground’s “Climate Change Center,” you can see how your local climate has changed over the years.

Detailed graphs display historical information for temperature, precipitation, and snowfall. The data goes back to the 1700s in some cases.

It also shows how your local climate is expected to change in the future based on current climate models.

Co-founder of the Weather Underground Jeff Masters said they launched the new tool in honor of Earth Day. One of the goals of the site, he said, is to help people understand the differences between climate and weather.

“Climate is what you expect based on past history of weather,” Masters says, “but weather is what you get. It’s got lots of random variations. You see a lot of extremes both on cold and hot sides, but they average out over a period of time. And to really understand where the weather of the future might fall, you have to look at how the climate, the long-term statistics over a period of 30 years or more, might be changing.”

William Schmitt / Flickr

After a highly unusual prolonged warm spell in the state, cold weather returned to northern Michigan putting Michigan's cherry crop at risk.

More from the Associated Press:

Phil Korson of the Cherry Marketing Institute says it probably will take another few weeks to determine the extent of the damage. But he says every time temperatures drop into the 20s, there will be crop damage.

Temperatures shot into the 80s for five consecutive March days in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. That caused trees to bloom early. But things quickly returned to normal. The National Weather Service says Leelanau County has had six nights below freezing and three nights in the 20s since the warmup.

The Michigan Farm Bureau says millions of buds froze at their most vulnerable development stage.

Growers say they hope to salvage a decent crop.

This past February, Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen reported on concerns about the changing climate and its effect on fruit trees in northern Michigan.

In his report, Northern Michigan fruit growers brace for a changing climate, Allen spoke with Duke Elsner. As an agricultural extension agent for more than 20 years in the Traverse City area, Elsner told Allen this past winter has been the "most bizarre winter weather he’s ever seen."

Growers were worried back in February about what happened this week, a frost after cherry trees blossomed.

Allen spoke with Jeff Andresen, the state’s climatologist and a professor of geology at Michigan State:

Andresen’s research shows an overall increase in temperatures of two degrees statewide in the last thirty years.

That’s pushing fruit trees to blossom earlier by as much as a week to ten days.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the last date of spring frost also was shifting earlier to keep pace. But it’s not.

That means the buds that produce the fruit are more exposed to the kind of freeze that wiped out the cherry crop in 2002.

Growers are tallying up the damage after the recent hard freeze.

We'll have more on how the cherry crop is doing in a story from Bob Allen on next week's Environment Report.

Patrick Feller / Flickr

The arrival of winter in Michigan is not supposed to last long.

The cold snap earlier this week is expected to give way early next week to temperatures back in the forties.

The lack of snow is taking a toll on some parts of the state’s tourism economy.

Forecaster Mike Boguth says northern Michigan might set a record this year for the least amount of snowfall ever. Boguth works at the National Weather Service office in Gaylord.

He says what little snow there is now could melt next week when temperatures rise.

“We don’t see any signs of cold weather coming back after we get by this week.”

Most ski resorts up north opened in December. That’s because nighttime temperatures have been cold enough to make snow.

But for businesses that depend on snowmobile traffic this time of year, things couldn’t be much worse. They’ve had just one weekend of business all winter. That was this past weekend which included the Martin Luther King holiday.

Dave Ramsey owns Beaver Creek Resort near Gaylord. He says just enough snow fell late last week to open the trails.

Still, more than half his cabins were empty this weekend when he would usually have a waiting list.

“Every hotel in Gaylord every motel and little cabin cluster will just about fill to capacity on every major holiday if we have good snow.”

The weather could also create problems for the North America Vasa. The cross-country ski race near Traverse City could draw 1,000 racers the second weekend in February.

The VASA trail has three inches of base but no snow-making capacity.

-Peter Payette for The Environment Report

So what's up with this weather? Wunderground.com's Dr. Jeff Masters explains.

James Hansen being arrested in Washington D.C.
Rainforest Action Network / Creative Commons

NASA Scientist James Hansen has been arrested in front of the White House. Hansen was participating in a protest against mountaintop removal coal mining. The Associated Press covered Hansen's arrest. The article said Hansen issued a statement saying mountaintop removal...

sun rays shining through clouds
Piccolo Namek / Creative Commons

Fall officially began on the 22nd. So far we've been treated with the Harvest Moon and warm weather. My kids even broke out the inflatable pool on Wednesday. They splashed around for 5 minutes before they gave up and asked for towels.