2017-02-23 / Front Page

Spring tempts while raising concerns

Sappy, early spring
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Winter-weary faces were grinning this week with record-breaking warm weather.

But not everyone was smiling.

“It’s a little nerve-racking, “ said Nikki Rothwell, director of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center in Bingham Township.

The mercury has topped out at 50 or above for five of the past six days, melting what was left of the season’s 98.6-inch snowfall.

A high of 57 degrees recorded Tuesday at the National Weather Service coop weather station in Maple City, tied the record set in 1983.

And as of press time Wednesday, it appeared a new record for Feb. 22 was within reach. The temperature sat at 55 at 11 yesterday morning. The previous record for that date — 56 — was set in 2000.

The nearly-week long break from winter was a little like déjà vu for county fruit growers who in March 2012 watched in horror as 70-degree temperatures in early March coaxed blossoms out of dormancy two months early.

The industry is still trying to rebound from the effects of the year without a harvest, having to draw in imports to fill the country’s cherries needs.

“As long as we don’t get a drastic cold snap, I think we’re OK,” Rothwell said.

She said that fruit trees could still withstand temperatures as low as 10 degrees without damage.

The same weather that fast-forwarded the arrival of spring also coaxed sap from local maple trees.

Richard Gauthier of Lake Leelanau on Saturday began collecting sap from his maple ridge.

“I’ve only done that once before,” said Gauthier, who’s been making syrup since age 10. He is now 86.

“It started Saturday but I only got about 45 gallons (of sap). But since then it’s been next to nothing. It’s too warm,” he said.

Ideal temperatures for sap collection are 28 at night and 30s and 40s for daytime highs.

“It’s unusual that we’ve had this much warmth,” said Gauthier. “When I was a kid, we’d have two feet of snow on the ground at sap time. Now it’s almost gone.”

After more than a week of highs of 33 or more, the county Road Commission on Friday placed seasonal weight and speed restrictions for county roads that are not considered “all season.”

The freeze and thaw cycle that usually comes in spring marks the beginning of pothole season.

Instead of plowing snow, Road Commission crews are out filling pot holes.

“It’s unusual weather and regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, there’s been a change in global weather patterns,” said Dan Wagner, managing director of the Leelanau County Road Commission.

Load limits were also put in place Friday by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

“I’ve been in this business for 15 to 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Rick Liptak, manager of MDOT’s Traverse City Transportation Service Center. “This is one of the earliest I’ve ever seen. Our average (load limit date) is usually the end of March.”

MDOT’s travel restriction applies to overweight or wide-load vehicles which are required to secure permits to travel outside the spring season.

“Our roads can handle all of the vehicles that would be impacted by local load limits,” Liptak said. “It’s only for the overweight or over-width.”

For those who aren’t fretting about fruit or filling potholes, brace yourself. It won’t be long before the weather will return to normal.

The low pressure system in the upper atmosphere that’s forced warm weather from the south will be changing course. Precipitation will be vacillating between rain and snow, depending upon temperatures

“There will be all rain Friday and this will change over to snow Saturday,” NWS meteorologist Jeff Lutz said. “But Sunday, it should be all snow.”

The forecasted high Sunday in Lake Leelanau is 30 degrees.

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We're not importing cherries

We're not importing cherries because we can't produce enough here. We lost a lot of the market to Europe in 2012. We've been fighting for five years to get it back.