Lake Effect Snow Season in Michigan

Lake Effect 4794-09

Lake Effect 4794-09, photo by StacyN – MichiganMoments

Many in Michigan are waking up to frigid temps, high wind and snow – the perfect conditions for lake effect snow. Meteorologist Robert J. Ruhf has an excellent article on Lake-Effect Precipitation in Michigan that explains lake effect snow and rain are common in Michigan, especially in late fall and early winter as cold polar air moves across the warmer Great Lakes. 

The unfrozen waters are relatively warm when compared with the temperature of the wintertime air mass. Therefore, the temperature of the air that comes into contact with the water increases. The warmed air expands and become less dense, which causes it to rise. This is an “unstable” situation. As the air rises, the temperature decreases until it reaches the dew point, which is the temperature at which the air becomes saturated.. Ice crystals or water droplets will then begin to collect until the force of gravity pulls them down. The result is “lake-effect” precipitation. When the cP air mass is very cold, as is often the case between December and February, the precipitation falls as snow. During late autumn, however, the polar air mass may be warm enough for the precipitation to fall in the form of rain.

“Lake-effect” precipitation can cause substantial intensification of snowfall amounts in very narrow bands, often referred to as “snow belts,” along the leeward (downwind) shores of the Great Lakes. The prevailing wind direction in the Great Lakes region is westerly; therefore, most “lake-effect” precipitation events occur to the east of the lakes.

…An interesting feature of “lake-effect” is that the heaviest bands of snow do not usually occur along the immediate shoreline, but tend to fall several miles inland. Snowfall accumulations are enhanced inland because the air experiences more uplift when it is forced over hills and higher terrain. 

Read on to learn lots more about lake effect snow in Michigan including four narrow bands  – Keweenaw Peninsula, Leelanau Peninsula, the Thumb and the southwest Lower Peninsula – where geographic features and the shape of the shoreline contribute to more intense snowfall. Hang on to your hats – winter is here!

Stacy took this photo of Lake Michigan from the North Muskegon shoreline in January of 2009. See it bigger and see more in her awesome Michigan BLUE Winter 2012 slideshow.

Need a winter background?

The Oldest Ship on the Great Lakes: The St. Mary’s Challenger

Departing........

Departing…….., photo by smiles7

7 years ago I shared the story of the Southdown Challenger on Michigan in Pictures. I was happy to see that the oldest operational freighter on the Great Lakes is still in action. The feature on the St. Marys Challenger on Boatnerd.com begins:

Currently holding the honors of being the oldest lake boat still trading on the Great Lakes, the self unloading cement carrier St. Marys Challenger was built as a traditional Great Lakes bulk carrier as hull #17 by Great Lakes Engineering Works, Ecorse (Detroit), MI in 1906. This veteran of the lakes was launched February 7, 1906 as the William P. Snyder for Shenango Steamship & Transportation Co. (subsidiary of Shenango Furnace Co.), Cleveland, OH. Retaining her original overall dimensions, the St. Marys Challenger is now powered by a Skinner Marine Unaflow 4 cylinder reciprocating steam engine burning heavy fuel oil rated at 3,500 i.h.p. (2,611 kW) with 2 water tube boilers. The power is fed to a single fixed pitch propeller and the vessel is equipped with a bow thruster. The vessel is capable of carrying 10,250 tons (10,415 mt) in 8 holds at mid summer draft of 21’09” (6.63m). Cargoes of bulk or powdered cement can be unloaded by a fully automated system including air slides, conveyor equipment and bucket elevators feeding a forward mounted 48’ (14.63m) discharge boom.

Of note, the St. Marys Challenger is one of only two remaining U.S. flagged vessels still active on the Great Lakes to be powered by the classic Skinner Marine Unaflow steam engine. The other vessel is the car ferry Badger (2) which is powered by two of these engines and, in turn, remains as the only coal fired vessel still in active service on the Great Lakes. The only remaining Canadian-flagged steamer powered by a Canadian-built (Vickers) Skinner Unaflow engine is the James Norris.

Read on for more and also check out this set of photos by Wade Bryant, who served aboard the Challenger.

Julie took this shot as the St. Marys Challenger steamed out of Charlevoix last week. Check it out bigger and see more in her boat slideshow.

Many more Michigan ships & boats on Michigan in Pictures!

Our Great Lakes would be a lot less pretty with Asian carp

Lake Michigan near Brevort, Michigan

Lake Michigan near Brevort, Michigan, photo by daveumich

I tried to find something amazing about Lake Michigan – a poem, a legend, anything – but I really couldn’t find something to match up with this stunning photo. I’ll fall back on the real & urgent need to protect the beauty of Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes from the  very real threat of Asian carp.

Asian carp just suck: massive, leaping fish that seriously injure boaters and eat everything else in the lake. They would be an apocalypse for the $7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry, and it is estimated that just 20 fish getting in would be all it would take.

So of course, yesterday John Flesher (IMO the best environmental journalist in the Great Lakes who also happens to be my neighbor) wrote an article on Asian carp that begins:

The recent discovery of a large Asian carp near Chicago underscores the need to protect the Great Lakes from the voracious fish and other invasive species that could slip into Lake Michigan, two members of Congress said Tuesday.

“If Asian carp are not stopped before they enter the Great Lakes, they could destroy the ecosystem, as well as the boating and fishing industries, and hundreds of thousands of jobs,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat.

…John Goss said the 53-inch, 82-pound fish was caught about a month ago in Flatfoot Lake, on the Illinois-Indiana state line.

Flatfoot Lake is landlocked and surrounded by a berm that would prevent it from flooding and enabling Asian carp to escape, said Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

But it’s very close to Chicago’s Lake Calumet, where commercial fishermen landed a 3-foot-long Asian carp in 2010 about six miles from Lake Michigan. Lake Calumet and Lake Michigan are connected by the Calumet River.

The latest find “is another reminder that we must find a permanent solution to protect the Great Lakes,” Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said Tuesday.

Indeed. How about we work on that? The Great Lakes are far too beautiful to be filled with the likes of Asian carp. If you agree, please share this with others. We can do something about this threat to our lakes.

Check this photo out background bigtacular, see more in Dave’s slideshow and also check out his photography website, Marvin’s Gardens including a shot of what I’m pretty sure was his breakfast up on Brevort Lake!

Regrettably, there’s more Asian carp on Michigan in Pictures.

Algae Blooms threaten Lake Erie

like an oil slick

like an oil slick, photo by 1ManWithACamera

I’d like to offer an apology of sorts for this photo. It goes like this: “I’m really, really sorry that I sometimes have to blog photos of the ugly things that threaten what’s beautiful in Michigan. I wish I didn’t have such a good reason to!”

Michigan has only the tiniest sliver of Lake Erie shoreline, so little that we sometimes forget that it is one of the lakes that define our Great Lakes State. Lake Erie served once at the canary in the coal mine for pollution of the Great Lakes, and it may once again be sounding a warning call. A recent front page of the New York Times featured scary news about algae blooms on Lake Erie:

For those who live and play on the shores of Lake Erie, the spring rains that will begin falling here soon are less a blessing than a portent. They could threaten the very future of the lake itself.

Lake Erie is sick. A thick and growing coat of toxic algae appears each summer, so vast that in 2011 it covered a sixth of its waters, contributing to an expanding dead zone on its bottom, reducing fish populations, fouling beaches and crippling a tourism industry that generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually.

…Dead algae sink to the lake bed, where bacteria that decompose the algae consume most of the oxygen. In central Lake Erie, a dead zone now covers up to a third of the entire lake bottom in bad years.

“The fact that it’s bigger and longer in duration is a bad thing,” said Peter Richards, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University in Ohio. “Fish that like to live in cold bottom waters have to move up in the thermocline, where it’s too warm for them. They get eaten, and that tends to decrease the growth rates of a lot of the fish.”

Read on for a whole lot more including how farming practices are intersecting with invasive zebra mussels and climate change to magnify the dangers.

Larry’s photo is from Lake Huron and shows a different kind of algal bloom. I got some similar ones on Lake Michigan, and the folks at Michigan Sea Grant have a whole album of them.

See it on black, view happier shots in his Caseville & Port Austin slideshow and see more of Larry’s work on Michigan in Pictures.

More Lake Erie on Michigan in Pictures.

Low Point for the Great Lakes

Low water levels, West Arm Grand Traverse Bay

Low water levels, West Arm Grand Traverse Bay, photo by michiganseagrant

On Michigan in Pictures I usually blog beautiful things, but today I’m featuring an ugly thing that we in Michigan should all be concerned about. Traverse City based Circle of Blue has an in-depth feature on the record-low level of Lake Michigan-Huron:

The latest numbers released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 5 show that both lakes Michigan and Huron — which are two connected lakes — are experiencing their lowest point since records began in 1918. Water levels were an average of 175.57 meters (576.02 feet) for the month of January, approximately 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) lower than the previous record set in 1964.

“Not only have water levels on Michigan-Huron broken records the past two months, but they have been very near record lows for the last several months before then,” said John Allis, chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office at the Corps, in a press release. “Lake Michigan-Huron’s water levels have also been below average for the past 14 years, which is the longest period of sustained below-average levels since 1918 for that lake.”

The low water levels, which the Corps attributes to: below-average snowfall during the winter of 2011-2012, last summer’s drought, and above-average evaporation during the summer and fall of 2012, have the potential to hurt the Great Lakes’ shipping industry.

…For the water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron to reach even near-average water levels again, the Corps said it will take many seasons with above average precipitation and below-average evaporation.

Read on at Circle of Blue for much more including the struggles that wildlife are having with the changing climate. You can also view the release from the Army Corps of Engineers and see historic Great Lakes levels back to 1918. From the Army Corps, I learned that at 1 1/2 ft below normal, ships are losing 8-10% of their carrying capacity.

Beyond harm to the multi-billion dollar shipping industry which feeds countless industrial endeavors, the low lake levels are making many of our recreational harbors inaccessible. These feed our multi-billion dollar sport fishing industry and  this has prompted Gov. Snyder to endorse a $21 million emergency dredging plan, $11 million of which would come from Michigan’s general fund. With over a half a million jobs in Michigan alone tied to the health of the Great Lakes, getting a handle on the threats that impact them are likely to be at the center of our policy and spending for a long time.

In a curious bit of synchronicity, you can see just how vital the Great Lakes are to Michigan in Michigan Sea Grant’s reports on Economic Vitality and the Great Lakes. View this photo bigger and see more in their Grand Traverse Bay Low Water slideshow.

Lots more Lake Huron and Lake Michigan on Michigan in Pictures.

Judas Carp

Club Carp by docksidepress

Club Carp, photo by docksidepress

Judas test: Will carp betray their own? on the Great Lakes Echo says that University of Minnesota researchers are working to put a new tool in the arsenal of those seeking to thwart the voracious and invasive Asian carp.

The researchers are fitting common carp, or “Judas fish,” with transmitters to lead them to other, larger schools of common carp, the station reports.

“(Carp) seem to be actually exceptionally social, they really hang out together,” researcher Peter Sorensen told the station. “We have to confirm that, but it sure looks that way.”

Watch the report from CBS Minnesota to learn how researchers hope to use the same technique to locate Asian carp populations for extermination.

Check out Matt’s photo on black and see more from Matt on Michigan in Pictures.

More fish on Michigan in Pictures.

Great Lakes water levels: Then & Now Edition

"... is the Lake Michigan water level low?" ...

“… is the Lake Michigan water level low?”, photo by Ken Scott

This photo is from a feature on today’s Leelanau.com blog about the historic water lows on the Great Lakes. It includes a great video so definitely check it out.

Leland is my home town and to see the difference from just 27 years is astonishing!

See it bigger, view more in Ken’s massive Leland/Fishtown slideshow and read an extensive discussion on Facebook.

More Lake Michigan on Michigan in Pictures.

Great Lakes Ice at near-record lows

Winter 2011 - Lake Ice

Winter 2011 – Lake Ice, photo by danbruell

The Great Lakes Echo reports that:

composite map of the Great Lakes produced by NOAA’s CoastWatch organization shows near-historic low ice coverage across the region.

The map, known as the Great Lakes Surface Environmental Analysis, is a composite of data taken from NOAA satellites orbiting the earth’s poles and radar scans of the lakes by the National Ice Center. The resulting image shows surface water temperature and ice coverage, important data for region scientists, fishermen and boaters. The map’s data is updated daily.

“Previously, the lowest ice coverage year was 2002,” CoastWatch manager George Leshkevich said. “2012 came very close to 2002, and this year is looking very similar to last year.”

Lack of ice cover leads to increased water evaporation, a serious concern in light of already-low lake levels.

You can read more about last year’s ice cover and impacts on Absolute Michigan.

Check Dan’s photo out background bigtacular and see more in his Lake Ice slideshow.

More winter wallpaper on Michigan in Pictures!