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Thursday, December 18, 2014


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On the Rise


MSU researchers offer input on up-and-down weather in state






Michigan is known for its unpredictable weather, but this year has been a wacky year for weather, even by Michigan standards.

It got a little stranger this past week, however, when Michigan saw a spell of warm weather reaching the high 70s, according to university officials.

Jeff Andresen, MSU geography professor and a state climatologist for Michigan, said after having a record-hot March, freezing temperatures in April nearly decimated the entire fruit crop of the state, causing higher prices this fall for many of the crops, including apples and cherries.

MSU researchers now are weighing in on the impacts the weather could have on the state as temperatures dip south on the verge of winter.

Although she hasn’t noticed the prices of regular apples increase, psychology senior Torey Duvall said she has noticed the increasing price of apple cider and some difficulties farmers have had growing this season.

“My uncle is a farmer, and I know his crops haven’t done well (this year),” Duvall said.

Crops lost
The state of Michigan, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of cherry production in the United States, saw a major loss after freezing temperatures destroyed a large amount of the state’s crop.

Russ Freed, a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, said about 175 million pounds of cherries are harvested each year, but this year, only about 2 million pounds are expected to be harvested.

Freed said of all the farmers he has spoken with, none of them have seen a drought worse than this year, but he said they won’t be discouraged from planting in future seasons.

“It’s an unusual year in Michigan,” Freed said. “(Farmers) are going to continue to plant the crops because … of the increase in demand of fruit.”

Mike Beck, president of Uncle John’s Cider Mill, 8614 U.S. 127, in St. Johns, Mich., said this season also has drastically increased the baseline prices for his apples, which are triple the cost they were last year.

“We try very hard to get people out here,” Beck said. “But there has been a decrease (from last year).”

The not so Great Lakes
Not only have some major crops seen difficulties this year, but the Great Lakes also have been struggling to maintain normal water levels.

According to the United State Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District’s website, all of the Great Lakes are several inches lower than last year at this time of year.

Lake Erie currently is 19 inches lower than average and Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Ontario all are 14 inches below last year’s levels.

Nathaniel Ostrom, a professor in the Department of Zoology, said climate change plays a major factor.

Because the lack of ice coverage on the lakes favors evaporation, the lakes lost water when they normally would not have during the mild winter last year.

Some of the effects of the lakes’ lower water levels include expanded shorelines, which make it difficult for homeowners to access their docks, Ostrom said.

The low levels also cause problems with ships traveling through the Great Lakes and the three hydroelectric plants operating on the St. Marys River.

“(Ships) can’t carry as much cargo with each ship,” Ostrom said.
“(And) the plants can’t operate at full capacity if the lake levels aren’t (where they need to be).”

Local impact
Although there are many negative side effects of the warm weather, Andresen said the outdoor recreation industry received a boost because consumers were more likely to engage in outdoor activities in months that normally saw colder temperatures.

“People must be very happy they got an early start for golf,” Andresen said. “There are some favorable (outcomes), but some are not. It just depends on who you’re talking to.”

Andresen also said because of the mild winter last year, residents found themselves spending less on heat, but he said there was a trade-off because residents spent more on air conditioning during the extremely hot and dry summer.

Joel Bell, the owner of Peanut Barrel, 521 E. Grand River Ave., said his business benefited from the warmer weather because he was able to open up the patio for seating, which helps increase business.

Bell said it always is a good thing to keep patio seating open as much as possible.

“If there are five people (inside), sometimes it doesn’t look all that attractive,” Bell said. “A nice crowd outside will relate to the inside as well.”


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