Michigan's forecast has been cloudy with a chance of clouds for months. Here's why. | Michigan Radio
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Michigan's forecast has been cloudy with a chance of clouds for months. Here's why.

Jun 20, 2019

It's not news to Michiganders that it's been a rainy, gray few months. Temperatures are lower, water levels are higher, and many of us are starting to feel a bit blue.

But is this weather abnormal, or are we just so desperate for summer that it's all in our heads? 

According to Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, it's not an illusion.

"An active jet stream pattern has put the Midwest on the receiving end of an unrelenting series of storms this year," Masters said via email. "This pattern has been forced, in part, by warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific, due to an ongoing El Nino event."

The National Weather Service only has cloud coverage statistics for the Grand Rapids weather station, but Masters expects this spring has been in the top 10% for cloudiest springs on record in Lower Michigan.

And all those clouds have brought a record amount of precipitation. 

"May was the second-wettest month in U.S. history, with the nationally averaged total of 4.41 inches just behind the 4.44 inches recorded in May 2015," wrote Masters. "The year to date also ranks as the wettest January-to-May period in U.S. history."

The gloomy weather has postponed summer activities for many Michiganders.
Credit Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

In Michigan, this past spring (March-May) ranked in the top 10% wettest on record, and in the top 30% for coolest on record. As a result, lakes and streams are much higher than normal.

"All that rain has helped send Lake Erie, Lake Superior, and Lake Ontario to new record highs for May, along with Lake St. Clair, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," Masters said. "In May, Lake Erie also reached its highest level on record for any month. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were just below their all-time May record water levels set in 1986."

All of this gloomy weather can't be blamed solely on El Nino, though. Climate change is a major factor in increased cloud coverage. As the Earth's atmosphere warms, it's easier for moisture to evaporate from the oceans, bringing more clouds and rain to some places, while others experience abnormal drought. Masters said scientists expect record-wet conditions similar to this year to happen more often as climate change continues.

Increased cloud coverage, combined with the frigid and long winter, has caused much lower-than-average Great Lakes temperatures, according to NOAA. Masters added that Lake Superior is 1.5 degrees colder than average, Lake Erie is 3 degrees colder, and Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Ontario are 6 degrees colder than average.

And the impact of that extra rain is greater than postponing a few barbeques. Michigan farmers have been hit hard by increased precipitation, causing the state Legislature to approve $15 million to a low-interest loan program for farmers that are experiencing crop loss due to flooding.

Shoreline homes and businesses are also at risk of flooding, and some animals, such as the endangered piping plover, are negatively effected by high water levels.

With even more clouds and rain in the forecast throughout the next week, it looks like summer isn't in a rush to get here. But hopefully it arrives before Michiganders come down with a severe case of the Eeyores.