Just before New Year’s Day, John and I walked along the Lakeshore Road, scanning the waves for the migrating sea ducks….the Common Goldeneye, Black Scoters and my favorite, the tiny Buffleheads. We had hoped to see thin sheets of ice developing at the edges of the beach. But because December had brought mild temperatures, and on the 26th, known as Saint Steven’s Day in Ireland, the thermometer registered nearly 60 degrees. Both of us feared a repeat of 2012.
That was the year when no ice formed on Lake Michigan, and like other local fruit farmers, we lost 90 percent of our blueberry crop. Apple and peach farmers also suffered that season and customers complained about the lack of fruit.
While teens may enjoy shooting hoops in December while wearing shorts and a t-shirt, farmers need more normal weather. When ice covers some portion of Lake Michigan, it creates the Mediterranean Effect that allows our northern climate to grow fruits. Ice chills the water, so in the spring, when the inland temperatures rise into the 60’s, the ribbon of farms near the lakeshore stay cooler and the fruit buds don’t open. While a frost might claim the open blossoms on inland farms, near the lakeshore, those tightly closed buds survive the low temperatures. The reverse situation exists in the fall, Lake Michigan’s water warmed by the summer’s heat helps to maintain a higher temperature. When an early frost strikes inland, the lakeshore remains mild.
But in 2012, no ice formed on the lake. I witnessed children splashing in the Lake on the first day of spring after a week with temperatures in the 80’s. Then April arrived, bringing frost every other night that killed the open peach and apricot blossoms. Seventeen frosts occurred between the end of March and May first, and they wiped out the fruit for that year.
Scanning the ten-day forecast, I am grateful the weather service predicts temperatures in the teens. Hopefully the next time we walk along Lake Michigan, our boots will crunch on shards of ice.
This is the reason we long for ice to stretch far out into Lake Michigan.