Sluggish start to spring season

ESCANABA – Spring has arrived, but the season may not be what winter-weary residents have hoped. Although the calendar lists today as the first day of spring, meteorologists say the long range forecast for the area tells a different story.

“Generally, we’re looking at continuing below normal temperatures for at least the next few weeks,” said Justin Titus, meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Marquette office.

Climate predictions released by the NWS indicate that below normal temperatures may extend into June. For the three-month period stretching from March through May there is a 44 percent chance that temperatures will remain below the average temperature of 36.5 degrees. If the projection is shifted to include the period of April through June, the outlook remains bleak with a 41 percent chance of average temperatures remaining below 48 degrees.

Despite predictions indicating that temperatures will remain lower than normal, there is no indication of exactly what temperatures will be.

“As far as specifics, it’s kind of hard to tell, especially the further out you go,” said Titus, adding that as the months progress temperatures are expected to moderate and fall back into normal ranges.

With the spring warm up comes an increased risk of flooding, but even with the large amount of snowfall the Upper Peninsula received this year, there is little indication of how severe flooding may be during the spring thaw.

“The risk of flooding is very conditional on how fast it warms up and if we get rain,” said Titus, adding that predicting flood conditions related to spring thaws can be difficult even a few weeks before flooding occurs.

In the Escanaba area, flood conditions are not expected to be extreme due to an average snow-pack and little to suggest that the season will have a high amount of precipitation.

“There’s no real indicators as to whether we’ll be above or below normal for moisture,” said Titus.

As the snow and ice above ground begins to thaw the frost below will also begin to melt, causing shifts in the soil and contributing to potholes and other road issues. This year’s extreme cold has caused a layer of frost roughly 20 inches deep to form across the U.P. In areas under roads – which are plowed and therefore have not had a layer of insulating snow – the frost levels are deeper.

The thaw may also pose dangers for residents who attempt to take advantage of a later thaw and this year’s deep layer of ice covering Lake Michigan.

“With the spring coming and warming up, especially with the winds, the ice will start shifting,” said Titus, noting that people who attempt to venture out on the ice may be taking an unnecessary risk.

Though temperatures will remain low and this season’s thaw could pose risks, there is some hope for those desperate for news of a heat wave. NWS climate predictions suggest a 39 percent chance that temperatures will be higher than normal in the January through March reporting period of 2015.