Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 19, 2013

National Weather Service predicts early, cold winter

By MICHELLE MERLIN mmerlin@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Northern Michigan residents witnessed relatively mild winters over the past decade: accumulations of snow in December and plenty of warm spells between storms to clear out the snow.

But experts project an earlier, colder winter this year, with snow perhaps before month’s end, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Keysor, who’s based in Gaylord.

“It looks like the winter may start a little earlier this year,” said Keysor. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen an active November winter season.”

“The last few years, we’ve probably gotten a little bit spoiled.”

Traverse City saw its last early winter in 2005-2006.

Agriculture could benefit from an earlier, colder winter, even if fingers and toes don’t.

A cold winter allows deeper snowpack to accumulate. The snowpack provides a steady, dependable stream of moisture in the spring as it starts to thaw.

That gives farmers an advantage compared to warmer winters, when snow melts between snow storms and less moisture is released in the spring.

Constant snow can form an insulating layer on plants, protecting them from the frigid air.

“I think it’s great for farmers,” Nikki Rothwell, the coordinator at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Center in Leelanau County. “A lot of snow is really good insulation, especially for wine grapes because they’re really susceptible to cold temperatures if you don’t have an insulating snow. Same with fruit trees.”

Rothwell said a layer of snow also keeps trees dormant until the spring, making them less susceptible to damage.

Meteorologists predict the weather based on the temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, Keysor said. This year, temperatures are pretty average, which in the past has meant a lot of cold air coming out from Northern Canada and across the Great Lakes.

All the cold air could result in more lake effect snow, unless the lakes freeze over more than usual, which would result in less snowfall.

Traverse City itself tends to get less snow than surrounding areas, Keysor said. Its proximity to the lakes keeps it warmer, so when borderline events occur the precipitation falls as rain or else melts when it hits the ground.

Keysor said that the area could get its first snow in the last 10 days of this month.

“Having a light coating of snow or something accumulating on grass a little bit would be perfectly normal,” he said.

Traverse City residents are already trying to get ahead of the snow, at that includes pricing that can help them clear away the after-effects of a winter storm.

“In general, people don’t mess around with snowblowers. They are on them like it was a broken refrigerator,” said Kevin Stricker, the store manager at Stricker’s Outdoor Power Equipment. “Winter stuff is very serious.”