Winter around the corner | News, Sports, Jobs


a “snow family” is seen in Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette during a previous winter. (Photo from newspaper file)

MARQUETTE – Northern Michigan counties are buying new equipment and hiring more full-time employees for an expected wetter than average winter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently predicted that the Great Lakes region will experience more frequent rainfall than usual this winter. This is caused by the La Nina phenomenon.

The same phenomenon means the temperature in parts of the Pacific Ocean is dropping, said Bryan Mroczka, a physicist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Ann Arbor.

And lower temperatures in the ocean mean lower than average temperatures in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions.

“What we can expect is that there will be more rainfall than the long-term average,” Mroczka said.

In simpler terms, “over the whole winter period, more will come from the sky,” he said.

Although it is difficult to predict weather conditions for the entire season, during La Nina years “there may be more frequent days when you wake up and have to plow your car and more days when you drive to work in a bit of snow,” Mroczka said.

Much of Michigan is expected to have average weather conditions.

But places like Sault Ste. Marie and Alpena are expected to have a harsh winter, according to the Winter Season Severity Index compiled by the Midwest Regional Climate Center in Indiana.

Some of the severe weather can be traced to three consecutive years of La Nina conditions.

“It’s a bit unprecedented,” said Austin Pearson, a climatologist at the center.

The National Weather Service has previously reported snow near Marquette. Typically, snow season runs from December through February, but it can arrive as early as October and as late as April, Pearson said.

Grand Traverse County, in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula, is already preparing.

“Our preparation for the next winter season takes place at the end of the previous winter season”, said Jay Saksewski, the superintendent of the county highways commission. County road workers began repairing equipment, ordering supplies and hiring staff in April.

Last winter, the county lacked enough trained drivers to operate snowplows, Saksewski said. It had only 26 drivers and relied on seasonal workers.

This year, it enters this season with 30 full-time employees, he said.

The agency has also ordered three additional plows for the season.

“Generally we will bring three new trucks into the fleet,” said Saksewski. “At the same time, we are making three trucks obsolete and offering them to other agencies or individuals to buy.”

For the past three years, the nearby Leelanau County Highway Commission has had to order more salt due to how often it has snowed.

“Our average snowfall is 120 inches and last year it was closer to 100 inches, but it snowed almost every day,” said Brendan Mullane, chief executive of the commission.

It is also hiring more drivers. The commission has 26 full-time drivers and six seasonal drivers. The amount of snow expected does not affect these hiring decisions.

“It doesn’t matter if we get a foot of snow or 2 inches of snow, we still have to drive the routes no matter what to get to every corner of our county,” Mullane said.

The Kent County Highway Commission is warning drivers to allow extra time for morning trips, have good tires and watch the nightly weather forecast for heavy snow, said agency superintendent Jerry Byrne. which includes Grand Rapids.

“We work with our law enforcement partners to help educate people,” said Byrne.

Winter screenings aren’t all bad news. Tourists looking to go skiing or dog sledding in the Upper Peninsula can count on La Nina to make it happen.

The region’s economy is based on snow, said Tom Nemacheck, executive director of Upper Peninsula Travel, a group that promotes tourism.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal for UP,” said Nemacheck. “It’s the best thing that happens to us in winter.”



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