Great Lakes could hit record warm temperatures
Traverse City — Jump in, the water’s warm — so warm that at some Great Lakes beaches, the water temperatures are expected to hit 80 degrees this month.
It could be a record year for water temperatures, according to meteorologist Mike Boguth of the Gaylord office of the National Weather Service.
“Average summer temperatures are a couple of degrees above normal,” Boguth said. “We’re coming off a low ice cover year of the lakes, we see a lot of correlation between the ice cover or lack of it, and a nice response in warmer lake temperatures.”
Ice protects the water from the sun’s warming rays, keeping water temperatures low until the ice melts in the spring. Ice cover was so light last winter that the ferry service to Mackinac Island ran all season.
An increased number of clear days also had an impact early in the season. Warm spring weather and open water causes the lakes to warm more quickly.
“We’re a little behind in water temperatures than the spring of 2012,” Boguth said. “We had a historic March heat wave that year with temperatures in the 80s and 90s. The lakes had quite a jump in warming.
“We’ll probably exceed those temperatures this month, as our August heat is expected to continue, where it usually cools some in August.”
A recently transplanted Ohioan, Tom Alfieri of Traverse City, found the swimming at the city’s Clinch Park Beach very refreshing.
“The water temperature is up considerably from last year,” he said. “It is wonderful.”
While swimmers enjoy lukewarm lakes temperatures, it can make fishing a bit more tricky.
“Fish go where the food is,” said Jack Duffy of Whitecap Charters in Leland. “Right now the alewives are all in the cooler waters of Wisconsin, near the shoreline where the warmer top water has been blown to the east by summer wind patterns.”
He added trout and salmon are easiest to hook when the water temperatures are between 50 and 55 degrees. Duffy said fishing will pick up in late summer or fall when the waters cool and food sources increase.
One common result of warmer water has not been as noticeable, said Craig Stow of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor. Algae blooms have not occurred much this year, the staff scientist said.
“Generally algae is stimulated by warmer temperatures, but what we’ve seen this year is limited nutrients input, especially in Lake Erie,” he said. “It was a dry spring and summer, and algae has not been a factor in the water conditions.”
George Leshkevich, a staff scientist with GLERL, said Lake Superior’s surface water temperature was 65.2 degrees Monday. On Aug. 1, 2012, his lab measured Superior’s water temperatures at 67.8 degrees.
“We are approaching that temperature and may very well surpass it,” he said.
Leshkevich said last winter just 34 percent of of the lakes were covered with ice, “and the lakes have warmed considerably.”
The buoys Friday recorded readings of 81.5 degrees at the Toledo Water Intake to 73.1 at the Straits of Mackinac and 75.2 in Grand Traverse Bay, according to Michigan State University Remote Sensing buoys.
A series of 23 buoys record everything from wind direction and speed, wave heights, solar irradiance, barometric pressure and air and water temperatures. The buoys, which cost between $50,000 and $100,000, are placed in the lakes in May and removed in November.
Temperatures along the Lake Michigan shoreline Wednesday measured 73.2 degrees in Pentwater, 72.7 in Ludington and 71.9 in Manistee, according to the buoys.
Swimmers have enjoyed the warmer waters.
Gerta Durga of Traverse City was swimming laps Sunday morning off Traverse City’s Clinch Park Beach, and enjoyed the warmer waters.
“I was downtown with my daughter and decided to get some exercise,” Durga said. “The water is wonderful.”
That sentiment was repeated the following day with a family from Cold Springs, Kentucky, that was swimming and playing in Grand Traverse Bay, which is part of Lake Michigan.
Neal Sterrett has visited the area for 65 years, and this year he brought his grandchildren for the first time.
“The water is great,” Sterrett said, “it’s so warm and clean.”
Travis Campbell, a lifeguard for Traverse City for the past three years, took the water temperature Monday and it read 72 degrees. “We are seeing good temperatures this year,” he said. “The beach is crowded each day with swimmers.”
The forecast of continued hot days in August will increase the chances of water temperatures staying at near-record highs.
Compared to 2015, when water temperatures in Lake Superior averaged 40-46 degrees, this year the temperatures are averaging 50-58 degrees, with one buoy in the middle of the huge lake hitting 60 degrees in late July, near-record warmth for the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes. By contrast, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan in 2015 averaged 54-60 degrees, and is averaging 65-69 degrees this year.
The National Weather Service says the average air temperatures are up 3 degrees this year, and water temperatures are up an average of 7-10 degrees.
John L. Russell is a writer and photojournalist from Traverse City.