While this year’s strong El Niño may play havoc in other parts of the country and the world, in the Great Lakes region it’s likely that we won’t need to talk about the polar vortex and the “snowpocalypse” this winter.
The Climate Prediction Center at NOAA is forecasting an increased chance of above-normal temperatures and a greater chance for below-normal precipitation across most of the Great Lakes region this winter.
“This does not mean that cold weather will not happen this winter,” said Molly Woloszyn, IISG climate specialist. “But typical extreme cold weather may be milder and less frequent.”
An El Niño develops when sea surface temperatures are warmer than average in the equatorial Pacific for an extended period of time. This year’s version is already considered to be strong and likely to become a bit stronger. Although each El Niño is different, they offer some predictable patterns.
Unlike the past two winters when heavy snow and bitter cold were the norm, if warmer conditions do occur this winter, this may mean less ice cover on the lakes. It might also mean reduced snowpack accumulation and therefore, less runoff into the lakes, which is a major contributor to lake levels.
Also, less lake ice means more evaporation off the lake surfaces. “Since the lakes are mostly at above average levels right now, this could lead to a return to normal water levels,” said Woloszyn.
Mild winters can have many positives impacts in the region. They are typically good for the economy (unless you are in the snow business)—heating costs go down, transportation runs smoother, and retail sales pick up. And they are generally good for agriculture, although some crop pests are more likely to survive the winter.
With the big spring thaw underway (mostly) and warmer weather on the way, Lakes Michigan and Huron are on track to get closer to their long-term water levels than they were last summer.
“Water levels on Lake Michigan- Huron typically rise from March through July. Lake Michigan- Huron has risen one inch since early March, but is 13 inches higher than this same time last year. Although the above two lakes are higher, they are still 16 inches below the long term average for this date.
The rise in the lakes in the past month was the result of melting snow. Precipitation didn’t help much to the rise in lake levels, as March was fairly dry. The dry pattern in March was good for helping Michigan avoid major flooding. However, heavy rain would have really boosted lake water levels. March precipitation over the Lake Michigan-Huron drainage basin was only 1.49 inches, which was 69 percent of normal.”
Read more about the projected lake levels for this summer at the link above.