BY MATT TROUTMAN
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Grab a time machine and you'd experience the same sub-zero chills and see the same frozen bay waters that used to define Traverse City's winters.
Or just walk outside.
Ice covers Grand Traverse Bay up to Northport, far north of the usual suspect point -- Power Island -- at which the bay traditionally is considered frozen.
George Leshkevich, a physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, estimated ice covers 90 to 99 percent of the bay. He said satellite images show ice extending from Grand Traverse Bay and into Lake Michigan itself.
It's only the sixth time Grand Traverse Bay has frozen over since 1990.
"There's still some open water area on Lake Michigan, but it's closing up day-by-day," Leshkevich said.
Leshkevich said Lake Michigan is about 66 percent ice-covered, compared to 80 percent for the Great Lakes overall. He said the lakes' jumble of wind-cracked ice floes and vast ice sheets this winter recalls what used to be a regular seasonal sight.
"Compared to winters in the '70s, '80s and even the early-to-mid '90s, it's not that anomalous," Leshkevich said. "I think the only thing that's different is we had a lot of ice early in the season with those Arctic air masses coming down."
The ice cover isn't the only thing reminiscent of past winters: it hasn't been this consistently cold in the Traverse City area since 1977, according to National Weather Service records. Average temperatures so far this winter hovered around 18 degrees.
Tim Locker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's office in Gaylord, said Traverse City thermometers on Tuesday hit minus 4, a frigid, bone-chilling temperature still nowhere near the record low of minus 37.
The downright Arctic weather left many Grand Traverse region residents seeking signs of spring, if only at one local flower shop.
Cindy Banwell, owner of Cottage Floral in Bellaire, said even her "supplier's suppliers" had difficulty finding flowers through this prolonged cold snap. Her shop's business slowed, but Valentine's Day sweethearts helped give it a pulse, as did faithful customers who braved the snow for some springtime blooms.
"I think people with the weather people want to buy tulips. They want spring," Banwell said.
Those customers might find some relative relief from the cold in next week's forecast.
Locker said a shift in the jet stream will bring warmer southwesterly winds into the area early next week and drive high temperatures up to 30 degrees on Monday. Temperatures may even inch a degree or two above freezing on Tuesday and beyond.
Jim Keysor, another National Weather Service meteorologist in Gaylord, said there's no doubt warmer conditions are headed into northwest Michigan.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we get a rain event in the next 10 days," he said.