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Record-setting Lake Huron temps a mixed bag for local fishery

News Photo by Julie Riddle A woman bundles up as she walks her dog at Mich-e-ke-wis Park in Alpena on Monday.

ALPENA — Northeast Michiganders may be bundling up as air temperatures drop, but the Great Lake in their back yard is as warm as it’s ever been.

At 46.8 degrees, Lake Huron on Monday reached a record warmth for the day since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began recording Great Lake temperatures in 1995.

The warm temperatures offer a mixed bag of positives and negatives for anglers with their eye on their chance of a strong fishing season next year, said Todd Wills, Michigan Department of Natural Resources research manager for the Lake Huron-Lake Erie area.

Lake Huron temperatures have hovered well above the long-term average since mid-August, with the exception of several days in late September when the lake surface cooled to average temperatures, according to NOAA data.

The surface remained warmer than average most of the first half of the year, as well.

Warmer fall water temperatures could change the habits of fish that spawn in fall, such as lake trout or lake whitefish, delaying the hatching of eggs and endangering the offspring’s survivability.

A mild winter following a warm-water fall could mean less ice on the lake, jeopardizing the lake whitefish fishery because that fish relies on ice cover to protect its eggs from wind and waves, Wills said.

On the plus side, water open to oxygen stands less of a chance of killing the fish hunkered down for the winter, which can die if they use up all the water’s oxygen below a thick layer of ice.

Warm weather may also provide fish more time to grow before they slow their metabolism for the winter, increasing their chance of survival, Wills said.

While local fish could feel the impact of the warmer water, Alpena-area residents may not notice it, a weather expert said.

Warm surface temperatures could mean a longer lake-effect snow season, especially on the west side of the state, where winds out of the northwest stir up snowstorms over warm water, according to John Boris, science operations officer at the National Weather Service station in Gaylord.

The risk for wild snowstorms off of the lakes may prove less than some residents fear, however, because temperature readings only reflect the surface of the water. A few strong storms combined with colder water underneath could cool the surface quickly, Boris said.

In Northeast Michigan, which sees less lake-effect snow because of the rarity of winds out of the north and northeast, water temperatures may impact the track of individual storms but may not play much role in the weather of upcoming months, he reported.

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