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Winter is coming...

Posted on November 19, 2021

(Satellite photo courtesy of NOAA)

In general, we tend to take long term predictions of what the winter will be like with a grain of salt. Will it be a mild winter, cold winter, snowy winter, dry winter, long winter, short winter? It just seems like those long-term forecasts are too difficult to predict... often considerably off-target, sometimes contradicting each other. But sometimes the science can tell us when we are optimally set up for a specific kind of weather, and our favorite MLive meteorologist, Mark Torregrossa, lays out a pretty good case that conditions are ripe for a good old-fashioned lake effect snow dump or two in western Michigan early this winter. 

To get that lake effect snow, we need two conditions: really cold air at 5,000-10,000 feet up in the atmosphere blowing over warmer Lake Michigan water on the surface. When the temperature difference between the surface and the air is 36 degrees F or more, we get that lake effect stuff. There are other, more complicated factors at play too, which Torregrossa outlines here, if you want to learn more about it. But this temperature differential is essential.

So, what's going on now that makes him think we're in for late November/early December lake effect snow? Well for one thing,  Lake Michigan has record warm water temperatures right now... in the mid 50s earlier this week. At those water temps, the air temperature at 5,000 feet doesn't have to drop too much to get to that 36 degree difference. Now, if you've been outside lately (well, except for Wednesday), you know it's already getting chilly. And there's a large area of cold air sitting over most of Canada, that's predicted to dip down into the upper Midwest. In fact, the forecast for Monday shows air temp at 5,000 feet here in Southwest Michigan to be about 4 degrees F. Torregrossa makes an assumption that with the colder weather, lake temps at the surface might be more like 48 degrees by Monday. So. if you do that math, you get a temperature difference of 44 degrees F-- more than enough to set us up for early snow!

Blood Moon Eclipse!

Posted on November 11, 2021

If you're like us, you love a good full moon. Well, November's "Beaver Moon" is especially fun, because there will also be a lunar eclipse--or "blood moon"-- and if THAT's not enough, it will be an especially long-lasting eclipse, clocking in at 3 hours, 28 minutes. 

In the wee hours of Friday, November 19, the full moon will pass through the Earth's shadow, making the moon appear red-- hence the "blood moon" moniker. It's not going to be a total lunar eclipse, but it will come pretty close, with 97% of the moon falling into the Earth's shadow.

Why does the moon look red during an eclipse? When the moon travels through the Earth's shadow, the only light that hits the lunar surface has been filtered through the Earth's atmosphere. Blue light is a shorter wavelength, so it hits the Earth's atmosphere and scatters. But longer wavelength red and orange light travels straight through, hitting far fewer molecules in our atmosphere, so that's the dominant color we see.

Why will the eclipse last so long? Because the Beaver Moon will be the smallest full moon of the year... in other words, the moon is about as far away from us as it gets right now. The moon's orbit around the earth is eliptical, so each month it reaches a closer point (perigee) and a far point (apogee) in relation to the earth. This month, the full moon happens to be the farthest apogee moon (a full moon in perigee is more familiarly called a "supermoon"). Because it's so far away, the Earth's shadow on it will be larger, so it will take the moon longer to travel through it. In fact, this will be the longest lunar eclipse this century!

If you want to see it you'll need to set your alarm... it will begin at 2:18 a.m., and reach maximum eclipse at 4:02 a.m. Plug in your zip code here to see exactly when and where to look in your specific location. 

Hello Darkness, my old friend...

Posted on November 5, 2021

It's time to set the clocks back this weekend. We don't love the end of daylight saving time, which officially happens this Sunday at 2:00 a.m. Enter the long, dark nights of winter, where you feel like you should be in bed by 7:00.

Is the time change really necessary? Why do we do this twice a year?

Well, the answer seems to be energy conservation. The Department of Transportation, which is in charge of daylight saving time, says it saves energy, reduces traffic accidents, and curbs crime. But other studies point out that increased use of air conditioning in the summer, plus the health impact of lost sleep negates these benefits. 

Daylight saving was originally adopted in Europe in 1916 during World War I, as a way to conserve coal. The U.S. hopped onto the daylight saving time train two years later. It was unpopular, and so it was abolished in 1918. Then during World War II, FDR implemented year-round daylight saving time (which he called "war time"), again, to conserve energy. This time, it lasted about 3 1/2 years.

Daylight saving time didn't become a permanent standard in the U.S. until 1966 with the passage of the Uniform Time Act, which set in place the system we know today, with clocks going forward an hour at 2 a.m. the last Sunday in April, and setting back at 2 a.m. the last Sunday in October. The time changes have since evolved to happening the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November-- this new iteration was not to save energy, but in part to give trick-or-treaters an extra hour of daylight to make their rounds.

Lots of states advocate for year-round daylight saving time. But under federal law, states must get Congressional approval to do so (if a state wants to scrap daylight saving, in other words, stay on standard time year-round, it doesn't need approval as long as the entire state goes along. Currently, Arizona and Hawaii don't use daylight saving time). Just in the last four years, 19 states have introduced legislationor passed resolutions to adopt year-round daylight saving time. But again, that would require a change to federal law, which is no small hurdle.

And we would be remiss if we didn't point out that during the energy crisis in the 1970's, the federal government DID enact permanent daylight saving time. It lasted 16 months-- people HATED it. It was the dark mornings that did it in. I think we here in western Michigan, about as far west in our time zone as we can get, can relate. Imagine sunrise at 9:00 a.m. in December. No thanks.

So, on Sunday evening when you're staring into the dark void and feeling sad, just remember that it might be a little easier to get up on Monday morning!

After Halloween, recycle your pumpkins!

Posted on October 29, 2021

On November 1st, don't let your Halloween pumpkins end up in a landfill... recycle them instead! Here are some great ways to give yesterday’s decorations a new, second life that benefits your garden and your local wildlife.

  1. If you’ve carved your pumpkins, they might be getting a little soft by now. Pumpkins are 90% water, so they start to decompose quickly once you cut into them. If this is the case, the best thing to do is compost them. You can do this even without a compost bin. Find a spot in your yard that’s not heavily trafficked—a sunny spot is best. We like to do this in our vegetable garden. Important: if you don’t want pumpkins growing all over the place in that spot, you need to remove the seeds (but save them for tips number 2 and 3!) from your pumpkin. Now the fun part: place the seeded pumpkin in your chosen spot, and smash it! Next, cover it with leaves, and let nature go to work. Worms will turn it into compost that will nourish your soil.

  2. Now, what to do with all those seeds? Well, lots of birds and small mammals like squirrels will eat them… so put them out for your local critters to snack on. Put them in a platform feeder, or mix them in with birdseed you put in your regular bird feeder.

  3. Or, plant the seeds! Pumpkin flowers are great food sources for beneficial pollinators, and next year you’ll have your own pumpkins to carve.

  4. If your pumpkin is still pretty intact, get crafty and make a feeder out of it! Here’s a video showing an easy way to do this. Be sure not to overfill—there should only be enough seed for the birds to eat in a few days, otherwise it will begin to spoil.
  5. The flesh of your pumpkins is a healthy snack for lots of animals, including birds, squirrels, fox and deer. Cut your pumpkins up into bite-sized pieces and scatter them in your yard. Note: if your pumpkins have already begun degrading, it’s best to compost them instead.

As a bonus, we offer you this video of Teddy Bear the porcupine snacking on pumpkins. It is essential that you have the sound ON. You’re welcome.

Happy Halloween!

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron lost almost 14 trillion gallons in past year; Why?

Posted on October 7, 2021

News Article from MLive. Read full news article HERE.

Most of the Great Lakes continue to have declining water levels from the record-high levels over the past few years. The water level decline of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron has been the most amazing.

Remember: Lake Michigan and Lake Huron share the same water level because the lakes are connected by free-flowing water through the Straits of Mackinac.

The water levels have been gradually increasing on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron since 2014. Lakes Michigan-Huron basically peaked last July in this recent water level rise. Now in the past year, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are declining rapidly.

great lakes water levels

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron water levels (in red) looking back to September 2019. (Data from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has measured the decline in water levels on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at 17 inches since July 2020.

One inch of water on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron represents 800 billion gallons of water. Getting out the big-number calculator shows a 17-inch decline is 13.6 trillion gallons of water on Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Why? Keith Kompoltowicz, hydrologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Detroit, says it’s easy to explain. Dry weather is the cause of the fast lake level decline. The lack of precipitation this winter, spring and early summer was the cause. Kompoltowicz reminds us the biggest drivers of water levels on the Great Lakes are precipitation, evaporation and runoff.

The image below shows much of Michigan has had only 75 percent to 90 percent of normal rainfall. The drainage basin of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron is most of Lower Michigan, and parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ontario.


Percentage of normal precipitation in the past year. (NOAA)

Kompoltowicz says the best way to see the dryness is to look at the U.S. Drought Monitor map from the height of this summer’s dryness.


Drought status on June 8, 2021

On June 8, most of Michigan was at least in moderate drought, and a large area was in severe drought.

Another oddity Kompoltowicz points out is the highest water level of this year. So far, Lake Michigan and Huron have been at their highest watermark in January 2021. If January remains the peak, it will mark only the third time since 1918 for a beginning-of-the-year high water level.

The water-level graph also shows the official water level forecast for the next six months. We certainly don’t have to worry about record high water levels anytime soon. Lake Michigan and Huron are forecast to continue to fall another 12 inches by January 2022. If we stay dry and the lakes fall to the lower end of the possibilities, the lakes will only be about six inches above the long-term average water level.

How quickly water levels can change on the Great Lakes.