It may be March, but Old Man Winter shows zero signs of slowing down. In fact, we will likely be below normal through at least mid-month. Despite the common case of the "winter blues" in most homes, this cold and snowy weather pattern we have been in for several month does have a silver lining. One of the biggest pluses is the big lake in our backyard.
By now, you've heard of the extensive ice coverage on the Great Lakes. At times this season, over 90% of the Great Lakes had ice cover. That's an incredible amount that hasn't been seen since 1978!
While a frozen lake may not sound like a pleasant thing, it plays an important role in the overall health of the Great Lakes. That's why we went to Ann Arbor to talk to Drew Gronewold, a hydrologist with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab.
"When we talk about the relationship between ice and water levels, it's important to take a step back and take a look at temperatures and water levels."
Simply put, cold water evaporates much slower than warm water. As ice develops and the water cools, evaporation is much less. This is why lake effect snow events in the late winter and early spring are typically less severe than those that come earlier in the season.
"This time of the year, we don't have high evaporation rates whether or not there is ice because the water is so cold," says Gronewold, "what we do expect is that the extreme cold conditions now and the ice will make it a lot harder for the water to warm up in the ways it has in the past in the summer."
Over the past two years, Lake Michigan's water level reached lows that haven't been seen since records began in 1918. This caused enormous economic struggles for shipping industries that were forced to lighten loads as well as hotels that no longer had a sandy beach.
"By next fall, water temperatures will be cooler and the evaporation rates next fall will be less than they have in the past. That's the key connection. Water levels should rise a bit."
In addition to aiding in relief of Lake Michigan water levels, this cold weather is also good news for bug control. Invasive species such as the emerald ash borer and the Asian stink bug will struggle this spring because of the cold weather over the past several weeks.
Even mosquitoes will have a lesser population at the start of spring. However, the summer mosquito population is not completely determined by the previous winter. A warm spring with plenty of standing water is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. If we see a cooler and drier spring, the population will likely be less come the summer months.
Another benefit to this cold weather is burning calories! It takes more energy for your body to keep warm in the cold versus the warmer weather. This is especially true if you begin to shiver.
However, of course, it's not recommended you stay outside and shiver to lose weight. But if you typically go on a daily walk or run, doing so in colder weather will burn more fat versus mild weather.