Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Summer in March

It's Summer!

The mercury climbed to 81 in Traverse City last Wednesday, shattering the previous record of 73 set in 1995. It was the first time the city hit the 80-degree mark during the celestial winter season. It also set a record high March temperature for Traverse City, a mark that could be touched or set again this week. Temperatures raced into the 80s Saturday, shattering the record of 74 degrees. Today's record high of 72 also is in jeopardy, as are the record highs over the next several days.

Overnight lows in coming days are only expected to drop to the low 50s. That's well below the average daytime highs of 40 to 43 degrees in late March.

"Overnight lows in the low- to mid-50s are typical of mid-June to early-July," said Keith Berger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gaylord. "To heck with spring-like weather ... this is summer-like."

Area farmers are watching the forecasts closely. The warm weather's already played havoc with the maple syrup season and more trouble could loom for local agriculture. Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station in Leelanau County, said early blossoms on fruit trees and grape vines are more susceptible to a late frost, which can happen any time before June 1.

"Everybody's a little nervous," Rothwell said. "We could have smooth sailing, but we have a long time to go."

Northern Michigan cherry trees typically bloom in the first or second week of May, but that could be pushed up as much as two to three weeks, Rothwell said.

"All these crops — sweet cherries, tart cherries, wine grapes — they all bud at different times. Some may come out fine, but there are some that could get caught up in the weather," she said.

Grand Traverse Baykeeper John Nelson said it's some of the weirdest weather he's seen in his lifetime as a northern Michigan resident.

"People are all saying how beautiful this is, but I just think this is very strange," he said.

Nelson said it's unclear how abnormally high temperatures will impact the bay. The lack of ice cover promotes evaporation, possibly affecting water levels, and fluctuations in water temperature could impact plant and algae growth.

"I can't say it's definitely climate change until we have a long-term effect," Nelson said. "This is just one year, but we've had less ice cover for 10 years now. It's starting to look like a long-term effect."

At Elmbrook, Sternburgh said it was a tough call to open the golf course in mid-March. Usually the ground is saturated in early spring and more prone to damage. This year, the greens are unseasonably dry.

"It's a great way to start the season. Last spring was horrible for golf courses. We didn't open almost until the middle of May," he said. "This is a blessing. If you don't get good weather in spring, you don't really make it up in the fall."

Bring it on!!