(01/31/14) - This very cold and snowy winter hasn't been sitting well with everyone, but this type of weather may be exactly what the Great Lakes needed.
Decreasing water level on the lakes has been a concern for years, but the snow and ice may mean 2014 might be the year that trend starts to change.
"It's amazing, you can get out snowmobiling, ice fishing, skiing," said Billy Blair.
Blair and friends are doing two of the three along Saginaw Bay.
The Shiver on the River ice fishing contest begins this weekend, and Blair says the weather has been perfect for the sport.
"The last few years, we haven't been able to get at them, and this year, we are tearing them up," he said.
"There are 16 inches of ice out there," said Joe Leuenberger. "This is the most ice we have had in over 20 years."
Leuenberger is right. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates the Great Lakes are now close to 70 percent ice-covered, which is the most coverage since 1994. More ice now means more water later.
Jim Baker, of the Department of Natural Resources, says the milder and less snowy winters of the past few years have helped contribute to water levels dropping in the Great Lakes.
"The extra ice cover on the Great Lakes helps cut down on evaporation, which is a major part of our water loss," he said.
While we have been getting a lot of snow, the Upper Peninsula has been getting more.
"All of that Lake Superior water comes down through Lake Huron and Michigan and that's what sustains our water levels through the summer," Baker said.
It's possible the harsh winter will mean a better summer for shipping and boating.
"Low water levels cause the Great Lakes ships to carry lighter loads in order to deal with shallower harbors and the same is certainly true for our recreational boats," Baker said.
More snow and cold are in the forecast, but maybe, it's not such a bad thing.
"For driving, it's terrible. For recreational purposes, it's been amazing," Blair said.
Right now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron are 13 to 14 inches higher than they were last year at this time.
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