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Warmer Temperatures Affect Snow Totals Around Great Lakes

NOEL KING, HOST:

Over the weekend, a big snowstorm hit the Midwest and the East Coast. But the areas around the Great Lakes didn't get that famous lake-effect snow. That's been going on for a while, the result of a warming climate. Here's Dan Wanschura from Interlochen Public Radio.

DANIEL WANSCHURA, BYLINE: Mount Bohemia is a small ski resort in the very northern tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It sits on land that juts out into Lake Superior. The views are stunning. And you can ski between old-growth maple and pine trees covered with snow. Getting more than 300 inches of fresh powder during the winter isn't uncommon in this part of the UP. Some say it's the best skiing this side of the Rockies.

JOHN ROYAL: It really sets itself apart, honestly. It doesn't really compare to other resorts.

WANSCHURA: That's John Royal (ph), an avid skier who's been making trips up to Mount Bohemia for the past decade. He loves the tight glade runs, steeper terrain and fresh, unground trails. This year, Royal planned a trip to the resort with his 10-year-old son, Tyler (ph). But when mid-January rolled around, there was no trip to plan because there wasn't enough snow.

ROYAL: It's really, really hard for a father to tell his son that we can't go on a trip and not because of, we'll say, financial, but because Mother Nature is not cooperating. There's - it sucks, it really does?

WANSCHURA: Resort President Lonie Glieberman says they're down about 100 inches of snow compared to last year.

LONIE GLIEBERMAN: We're just not getting Arctic air coming down from Canada.

WANSCHURA: For decades, the resort has relied on massive, lake-effect snow dumps to attract skiers and snowboarders, but not this year. And the thought of buying and deploying snowmaking machines has never really been a consideration. But the warm winter this year is forcing Glieberman to think about it. He says most of the feedback he's gotten so far about manufacturing snow has been negative.

GLIEBERMAN: It's like if you were the best New York pizzeria and you couldn't serve pizzas so you put on chicken wings on your menu instead, you're still open for food, but that's not why your customers come to you. So we can be open with snowmaking runs. But that's not why the people drive seven to 10 hours to ski us.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

RANDY DANFORTH: T&R Yamaha, it's Randy

WANSCHURA: A seven-hour drive south in East Jordan, Mich., Randy Danforth understands that logic and is facing a similar problem. In a normal winter, he'd now be busy selling and servicing snowmobiles. But, like many in northern Michigan this year, he's glued to the weather forecast and praying for snow.

DANFORTH: We can have the greatest product in the world - if we don't have snow in our area to sell the sleds, then they just don't sell.

WANSCHURA: Snow is critical not only for his business but for the entire economy here. Bars, restaurants, motels and other places depend on mounds of snow to bolster winter tourism.

DANFORTH: The bread-and-butter months for an average snow community - December, January and February - are huge.

WANSCHURA: Some scientists say this year's warm winter in the Midwest is something we're likely to see more of. Richard Rood studies climate change at the University of Michigan and says consistently cold winters, as we've known them in the past, may not be realistic anymore.

RICHARD ROOD: We are not going to be able to have the same relationship to the climate and to the environment that we have had over our lifetimes and over our parents', grandparents' lifetimes.

WANSCHURA: And that means outdoor winter pastimes like ice fishing or skiing and snowmobiling in the Midwest could melt into memories sooner than later, and the economy that's depending on consistent snow and freezing temperatures might not be far behind.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Wanschura in Interlochen, Mich.

(SOUNDBITE OF WESS MEETS WEST'S "THESE WILL ALL BE STORIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.