BY GLENN PUIT
— TRAVERSE CITY — Talk about wild, wacky weather.
A week ago it was zero degrees with wind chills to minus-25. This week, it’s a big, wet snowstorm followed by a 51-degree day, heavy rains and fog as thick as peanut butter.
Thursday through Friday it’s more snow — lots of it — with cold temperatures and treacherous roads.
“Oh boy,” said Jillian Miles as she walked along Union Street in Traverse City today as sleet fell sideways and pelted her face. “I’m not looking forward to this ice, but that’s northern Michigan. What are you going to do?”
January’s tempestuous climate is the talk of the region, and it’s probably going to stay that way at least into the early days of February, given predictions for lots more lake effect snow.
Snow accumulation predictions through Friday afternoon in the Grand Traverse region range from five to 10 inches. Some areas, including Kalkaska and Antrim counties, could see even more.
The National Weather Service issued a lake effect snow warning through Friday and officials monitored area rivers for signs of flooding after Tuesday’s record warm temperatures, a snow melt-off and three-quarters of an inch of rain Tuesday night into this morning.
“It is highly unusual to have that amount of rain this time in January, which is supposed to be our coldest time of the year,” said Nick Schwartz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gaylord.
Some wonder if climate change is to blame for the wacky weather.
Not necessarily, said Anthony Barnston, a chief forecaster for the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University.
Science clearly demonstrates the climate is warming, he said, but wild weather fluctuations here are, well, weather.
“Often people think there is lots of new or different weather going on when there are periods of great variation, but really, those variations have always happened,” Barnston said. “It’s possible there is a bit of climate change going on, but we are really hard-pressed to quantify the day-to-day and week-to-week variations.
“Any single winter, you can get other causes for mild or cold winters,” Barnston said.
The most frequent causes for big fluctuations in weather are storm systems, as well as atmospheric phenomenon like El Nino, La Nina and what’s called the North Atlantic Oscillation.
“It’s hard to wrap your mind around all of those things together, but those storms are completely natural,” Barnston said. “They come every winter.”
A record high temperature of 51 degrees in January is not normal, he said, but temperatures like that in a cold, snowy region like northern Michigan can and do happen.
So do low-snow winters like the one experienced in 2012.
“It’s on the tail of the curve,” said Barnston. “There’s no doubt it’s not near average, but it’s normal to have times when you are on the tail of the curve. It has to happen sometime, and to think these anomalies will go on forever is probably a big mistake.”
Traverse City resident Doug Throop didn’t let today’s weather weirdness stop him from a bit of steelhead fishing. Throop waded into the Boardman River and tossed his fly fishing line back and forth with the hope of landing a big one in the face of a snowy sleet.
“This kind of weather is nice for fishing,” Throop said. “Not that five above stuff, though.”