TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – From a field station in northern Wisconsin, where the previous night’s low was a numbing 29 degrees below zero, climate scientist John Lenters studied computer images of ice floes on Lake Superior with delight.
It may be hard to think of this week’s deep freeze as anything but miserable, but to scientists like Lenters there are silver linings: The extreme cold may help raise low water in the Great Lakes, protect shorelines and wetlands from erosion, kill insect pests and slow the migration of invasive species.
Ice cover on the Great Lakes has been shrinking for decades, but this year more than 60 percent of the surface is expected to freeze over at some point – an occurrence that could help the lakes rebound from a prolonged slump in water levels.
Even agriculture can benefit. Although cold weather is generally no friend to crops, some of southern Florida’s citrus fruits can use a perfectly timed cool-down, which they were getting as midweek temperatures hovered around freezing. “A good cold snap lowers the acidity in oranges and increases sugar content, sweetens the fruit,” said Frankie Hall, policy director for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s almost been a blessing.”
Scientists noted that subzero temperatures and pounding snowfalls like those that gripped much of the nation for several days are not unheard-of in the Midwest and Northeast and used to happen more frequently.
For all the misery it inflicted, the polar vortex that created the painfully frigid conditions apparently broke no all-time records in any major U.S. cities, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of Weather Underground.
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by John Flesher | The Associated Press