El Nino and the Great Lakes

El Nino is coming, El Nino is coming! It’s like Chicken Little saying, “The sky is falling.”

Doomsayers claim it’s a part of the world’s “climate change.” The mouths on steadier heads say, it’s happened before and will happen again. 

I say, since it’s happened before we have an idea of what to expect. I also say if the expected El Nino influence on the weather in the Great Lakes area comes to pass, it may just be a good thing. 

You’ve all heard of the “butterfly effect,” a term coined by a now-deceased meteorologist claiming the wind produced by a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world could eventually create a hurricane on the other side of the world. If a butterfly can do that, El Nino can and has a track record of doing even more. 

El Nino is a warming of the ocean’s surface waters in the western Pacific Ocean along the Equator with that warmth spreading east towards South America. Much of North America’s weather forms or is influenced by the conditions in the Pacific and when an El Nino event occurs, normal weather takes a sideline to abnormal weather over much of the country. For the Great Lakes area, El Nino means less precipitation and warmer conditions over the winter.

As a less than avid enthusiast of cold and snow, I view El Nino as a welcome event. But what will it mean to the Great Lakes? Certainly, not wanting to belittle lakes Superior, Huron and Erie, each a special treasure for Michigan, Lake Michigan is now the most troubled, environmentally. What will El Nino mean for it in particular? 

The first thing could be a rapid decline of lake levels. Warmer than normal weather retards ice formation and allows for greater evaporation. Luckily, the last two years of colder than normal weather maximized ice formation and allowed the lake to rebound from record low levels of a couple years ago. Much of the evaporation, turns to lake effect snow falling on western Michigan and when the spring melt occurs, the water returns to the lake. 

Two years of dismal chinook salmon fishing has been pinned on the decline of alewives in the lake. Fish biologists who keep track of such things report alewives had a great spawning year in 2015 and hopefully, those baby-ales will soon repopulate the lake and help bring back the salmon. One key in the survival of alewives is the depth and duration of winter’s cold.  

Alewives don’t do well in tough winters. An El Nino winter could help put the alewife population back on it’s feet, or fins. That bodes well for them and the salmon that eat them.  

So El Nino, come on down,  or up, … just keep coming. I’m looking forward to it. 

Categories: Blog Content, MicBlogs, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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