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Fall Color Predictions!

Posted on September 10, 2020

Yes, it's that time of year again... Labor Day is in the rear-view, days are getting shorter, nights are getting cooler... and soon, the leaves will begin to put on their annual show! And this week Mark Torregrossa, meteorologist for MLive, has come out with his predictions of when peak color times will be throughout the state, shown in the graphic below from the site.

fall color forecast

According to Mark, what he is seeing now in our weather patterns determines his prediction. He says that chilly mornings are what typically kicks the color change into high gear. The last few years, it has been on the warmer side, which means the timing of the leaves changing has fallen behind by a week or more. This year however, it has already been considerably cooler, with some areas in the northern part of the state showing predicted low temperatures in the 30-40 degree range in coming days.

Another thing he is seeing... or I guess we should say that he isn't seeing... is very much change happening now, in September. Usually you'll see some more subtle color changes that we are now, which Mark argues might actually be a GOOD thing: it could indicate that the various tree species are in sync for peaking all at the same time... which would make for a spectacular show this year!

BIRDS, BIRDS, BIRDS!

Posted on September 4, 2020

Attention birdwatchers!

There's a major bird migration coming through our area right now! BirdCast is predicting a high-intensity flight of potentially more than 200 million migrants over nine states--including Michigan and Indiana-- starting last night, and going through tonight. So today will be an excellent time to get out your binoculars and hit your favorite bird watching spots to see some of the new arrivals! The link above include a list of arriving species, and when you are most likely to see them. 

Since many migrants prefer to fly at night, you can also step outside tonight and you might hear the calls of various birds overhead as they make their way south. 

This is also a great time to be a part of the conservation efforts to protect migratory bird populations (we talked about this problem back in May). Turn off lights tonight, particularly if you are in a more populated or urban area. This will prevent the birds from being attracted to areas where they are in danger of colliding with buildings or other structures.

So get outside today, and let us know what you see and hear! 

Hat tip to Joe Dits at the South Bend Tribune for alerting us to this forecast. Follow his blog, Outdoor Adventures, on Facebook.

The Mighty Monarch!

Posted on August 14, 2020

The Monarch butterfly, that familiar black and orange insect seen fluttering about in the summer, is well known for its remarkable yearly migration. Each year, when the days begin to get shorter and cooler, millions of the butterflies instinctively leave their breeding grounds in the Northern U.S. and Canada and head south to the Oyamel fir forests in central Mexico—an epic journey of up to 3,000 miles. Then when the days start getting longer again in the spring, they do the entire journey in reverse. 

Given that a monarch’s lifespan is only about 4-5 weeks, these migratory trips occur over several generations each way, with a few generations in between that spend their entire lives in one place or the other. In the spring for example, a generation will emerge in Mexico and immediately begin their journey north. Along the way, they will lay eggs. The new generation instinctively continues north, laying their eggs along the way; and so on. It can take 4 or 5 generations to reach the northernmost part of their breeding grounds in Canada.

Female Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants. When the eggs hatch, the resulting caterpillars' number one priority is to feed. They only eat milkweed, which is why the eggs are laid there. After about two week of eating and growing, they spin a protective case around themselves and enter the pupa, or “chrysalis” stage. A week or two later, they emerge as fully formed butterflies.

As you’ve probably gathered, milkweed is very important to the Monarch’s life cycle. Not only is it their only food source in the caterpillar stage, it also helps them in their adult butterfly stage as a defense mechanism. Milkweed is toxic to all other animals but Monarchs; and in fact, they are able to store the toxins in their bodies throughout their lives. This makes them poisonous to predators like birds. Their bright colors and distinctive patterns serve as a warning to these potential predators: “Stay away, I taste bad and will make you sick.“ 

Unfortunately, there has been a significant reduction in milkweed plants in the Monarch’s habitat due to increased use of herbicides in agriculture and mowing along roadsides and ditches. This is obviously a huge problem for Monarchs, and is a major contributor to the alarming estimated 80% decline in their population over the past 40 years. Another threat they face is climate change. They are very sensitive to temperature and weather changes, which can affect biological systems and mess up their migration timing.

Want to help out our Monarchs? The best thing you can do is plant some milkweed! Just make sure it’s the kind that is native to your region.

Celestial Showtime!

Posted on August 7, 2020

Wow, it’s August! How did that happen so fast? If you are a stargazer, August is a pretty exciting month because that means it’s time for the Perseid meteor shower, considered by many astronomers to be the best and most consistent meteor shower year after year. 

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is it, anyway? Each summer during its orbit around the sun, Earth passes through the tail of the Swift-Tuttle Comet (read more about comets in our previous post on Comet Neowise). Debris from the comet enters our atmosphere, at which point it burns up, creating a dazzling array of shooting stars, or meteors, that are visible at night. 

That’s right, “shooting stars” have nothing at all to do with actual stars. They are instead bits of dust and rock. In space, they are called “meteroroids.” When they hit Earth’s atmosphere, burn up and streak across the sky (and we do mean streak! They are traveling at about 37 miles per second!), they are deemed “meteors.” If they happen to make it all the way to the earth’s surface without completely burning up, they become “meteorites.” Don’t worry about Perseids meteors crashing to Earth though. Most of them are way too small, about the size of a grain of sand. 

So, when can you see it? The Perseid meteor shower actually began in mid-July and lasts through late August. But its peak is coming next week, on August 11, 12 and 13. This is when Earth is passing through the most dense area of debris in the tail of Swift-Tuttle. Find the darkest, most expansive bit of sky you can, and look towards the north. If you’re really into astronomy, you’ll notice that the meteors appear to be originating from the constellation Perseus, which is how the shower got its name. 

The best time to see them in in the pre-dawn hours. As Earth rotates, the side facing the direction of its orbit around the sun picks up more of the comet’s debris—and from down here on the surface, that part of the sky is directly overhead around dawn.

When conditions are perfect, it is possible to see up to 150 shooting stars per hour flitting across the sky. This year, the moon will be entering its last quarter phase at the peak, which will be a little brighter than you’d like in order to see a spectacular show… but it will still be pretty good! You can still expect to see as many as 40 or 50 per hour at the peak… and that’s not nothin’, right? Plus it will be waaay better than last year, when the moon was darn near full during the peak. 

So next week, set your alarm for dark-thirty, grab a cup of coffee, get outside, and look up. Let us know if you see the Perseids this year, and if you get pictures, we’d love to see them!

Lake Effect... Rain??

Posted on July 31, 2020

You've heard of lake-effect snow, that quirky winter phenomenon that occurs on our side of Lake Michigan... but did you know that lake-effect rain is a thing too? In fact, we just experienced some on Wednesday of this week. So what exactly is it, and what makes it happen? 

Lake-effect precipitation—whether we are talking snow or rain—is formed when the water temperature of the lake on its surface is significantly warmer than that of the air at about 5,000 feet up. Much like the steam coming off a pot of boiling water on your stove, this temperature difference causes surface water to evaporate and rise forming a cloud, which following usual weather patterns, moves over the water from west to east. When this cloud hits the eastern shore, the precipitation gets released… in cold weather, it appears as snow, in warmer weather, it’s rain.

So for lake-effect rain to happen we need pretty warm lake water relative to the air. And boy howdy, do we have warm water temperatures this year! In fact, the temperatures in the Great Lakes are breaking records. Lake Michigan’s average water temp hit 75.1 degrees F on July 8. It’s typically averaging around 64 degrees at this point in the summer. Lake Erie’s average water temp reached a stunning 79.6 degrees F on July 10! 

Why is the water so abnormally warm this summer? Because it has been so abnormally hot, with very little rain. And while the warmer water is pretty nice to swim in, it’s not so great for water quality and aquatic life, creating conditions ripe for blue-green algae blooms that can harm fish and make people exposed to it sick.

So we’ve got the warm water part of the lake-effect equation, and mid-week, we had much cooler weather roll in. Meteorologists have determined that there needs to be around 25-degree temperature difference between the water surface and the air at 5,000 feet for the lake-effect to occur. With the water temp at about 75 degrees, on Wednesday, the air temp at that height was about 51 degrees… viola! Lake-effect rain. This is why we had those weird rain showers pop up out of nowhere late Wednesday afternoon.

You don’t really hear about lake-effect rain as much, because the conditions necessary to create it rarely occur in the summer. When the air is consistently warm, it’s pretty hard to reach that 25-degree temperature differential. But with water temps so unusually warm right now, it’s far more likely to happen. Because in 2020, nothing can just be normal, can it?