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Spring 2013

Jeff Gunderson

Jeff Gunderson

Spring certainly took its time coming to Lake Superior and the Northland this year. Records for cold temperatures and snowfall in April made me begin to wonder what happened to climate change predictions suggesting more warmth.

I keep reminding myself: this is weather, not climate.

Climate is a long-term trend while weather can vary, sometimes considerably. Even knowing the difference between climate and weather, I had my expectations crushed this year as I imagine many anglers did going out for the walleye opener in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Even as I write this on May 2, another snowstorm moved into the Northland and dropped over a foot of snow in places and closed schools.

I was fishing on Lake Superior by March 31 last year. This year I didn't get onto the lake until April 27 and there was still snow blocking access to boat launch ramps. We trolled through a thin layer of ice in several places. I had to remind myself, again, about the difference between climate and weather.

An article I just read indicated CO2 levels in the atmosphere are approaching 400 ppm for the first time in at least 3 million years and are continuing to climb. So even though we had extremes for cold and snow this April and a blizzard in May, it doesn't portend the end of climate change concerns.

Like many spring activities, the smelting season began several weeks later than usual this year. As a guy that moved to Duluth during the peak of the smelt runs on Lake Superior, I am surprised to run across smelters who are happy with a bucket of smelt rather than a pickup truck full of them. Their expectations are quite different than ours were during the "time of the smelt" in the 1970s, before the smelt population in Lake Superior crashed. Some smelters I watched last year off of Park Point were pulling seines in much higher waves than I would have expected. It made me worry about rip currents and that awareness programs and NWS forecasts don't start until at least June in these parts. Consequently, there is a new webpage for smelters on our website (www.seagrant.umn.edu/fisheries/smelting), and we're making an effort to reach smelters with the message that rip currents are common off of Park Point and precautions should be taken when rip currents are likely. I hope everyone has a safe, although late, smelt season this year.

One relatively new activity on Lake Superior doesn't seem to be affected by cold and blizzards. In fact, participants seem to relish them. Lake Superior's hardy surfing community doesn't seem to mind if high winds and waves are part of a bitter blizzard or not. Twice now, I've driven to Stoney Point to photograph large waves just as a blizzard was hitting the North Shore. Both times, in addition to waves, I've found surfers. Even though water temperatures were close to 32°F and schools were closed due to the 18 inches of snow that fell, the surfers were thoroughly enjoying themselves. To see our short video of April's blizzard surfing, check out our YouTube Channel (www.youtube.com/MNSeaGrant).

With climate change predictions suggesting more frequent and more intense storms, surfers should be happy. Like Lake Superior's surfers, I hope you find a way to take advantage of the weather, even if it snows in May or defies your expectations. Remember there is a difference between climate and weather. Enjoy the summer, and before you head to Park Point Beach, think about checking out the wind, weather, and water conditions first at www.ParkPointBeach.org.

By Jeff Gunderson
May 2013

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