By JANELLE JAMES
Capital News Service
LANSING – Counties in northern Michigan 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 have more frequent precipitation than usual this winter. This is caused by the phenomenon La Niña.
The same phenomenon means that the temperature in the Pacific Ocean is dropping, said Bryan Mroczka, a physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Ann Arbor.
And lower temperatures in the ocean mean below-average temperatures in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions.
“What we can expect is that there will be more precipitation 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 Niña years “there may be more frequent days where you wake up and you have to brush the snow off of your car and more days where you’re driving to work in a little 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 severe winter, according to the accumulated winter season severity index by the Midwest Regional Climate Center in Indiana.
Some of the severe weather may be attributed to three consecutive years of La Nina conditions.
“This is kind of unprecedented,” said Austin Pearson, a climatologist at the center.
The National Weather Service has already reported snow near Marquette. Typically, the snow season spans from December to February, but it can come as early as October and as late as April, Pearson said.
Grand Traverse County, in the northwest part of the state, is already preparing.
“Our preparation for the next winter season happens at the end of the prior winter season,” said Jay Saksewski, the superintendent for the county’s road commission. County road workers began repairing equipment, ordering material and hiring personnel in April.
Last winter, the county lacked enough trained drivers to operate the snowplows, Saksewski said. It had only 26 drivers and relied on seasonal workers.
This year, it is going into this season with 30 full-time employees, he said.
The agency has also ordered three additional snowplows for the season.
“Typically we will bring three new trucks into the fleet,” Saksewski said. “At the same time, we’re obsoleting three trucks and putting those out for other agencies or private parties to buy.”
Within the last three years, the Leelanau County Road Commission has had to order more salt because of how often it 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, the managing director for the commission.
He is also hiring more drivers. The commission has 26 full-time drivers and six seasonal drivers. The amount of snow that is expected doesn’t affect those hiring decisions.
“It doesn’t really 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 all of the corners of our county,” Mullane said.
The Kent County Road Commission is warning drivers to allow more time for morning commutes, have good tires and watch the overnight weather forecast for severe snow, said Jerry Byrne, the superintendent for the agency.
“We work with our partners in law enforcement to help educate folks,” Byrne said.
The wintry projections aren’t all bad news. Tourists looking to go skiing or dog-sledding in the Upper Peninsula can count on La Niña to make it happen.
The region’s economy is based on snow, said Tom Nemacheck, the executive director for Upper Peninsula Travel, a group that promotes tourism.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal for the U.P.,” Nemacheck said. “It’s the best thing that happens for us in the wintertime.”