Cool summer disappoints tourists, delays crops


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Towels draped over their heads, Lisa Hendrix and Jennifer Webster lounged on a sparsely populated Lake Michigan beach Friday as raindrops trickled from a gloomy sky.

It’s been that kind of a summer in northern Michigan, and across much of the Midwest and East Coast.

"We’re going to a wedding tomorrow and were hoping to get a little suntan," Webster said. "No luck."

Temperatures have been well below normal. Sunshine often has been in short supply and rain has fallen at inopportune times. It’s resulted in crops ripening slowly and some tourist havens -- already dealing with a sour economy -- taking an extra hit.

"There’s more griping about the weather than we’ve seen in recent memory," said Norris Clark, marketing director for Morey’s Piers, an amusement complex in Wildwood, N.J., where low temperatures and excessive rain have cut revenues by about 4 percent from last year.

"We’re changing our advertising to talk about the heated pools in our water parks," Clark said.

Nick Mavodones, manager of a ferry line that serves islands in Casco Bay off Portland, Maine, said last month’s ticket sales were off by 5,000 after weeks of rain and chill.

"It wasn’t good for business and it wasn’t good for people’s dispositions," he said.

Unusually low readings have been recorded across much of the eastern U.S. except for the Deep South, said Jim Angel, a climatologist at the University of Illinois, where NOAA’s Midwestern Regional Climate Center is based.

Average temperatures in Illinois are about 6 degrees below normal, he said. If current patterns continue, the summer could be among the five coolest on record. July averages in northern Michigan have been 5 to 8 degrees below normal, said forecaster Jim Keysor of the National Weather Service office in Gaylord.

The explanation is simple: The high-altitude jet stream has been south of its normal position. It has enabled cool, dry Canadian air to command the skies east of the Mississippi while blocking warm, moist air flows from the Gulf of Mexico.

Agricultural effects have been mixed, with slowly ripening crops a problem for some but not others.

Cherries are running one to two weeks behind schedule in northern Michigan, where nighttime temperatures have dipped into the upper 30s. The cold has kept insects at bay, but the longer the fruit is on the trees, the more vulnerable it becomes to storms, disease and other threats.

"We have an excellent cherry crop but it’s come along slowly," said Rick Sayler, a grower near Traverse City.

A deep freeze last winter zapped much of Ohio’s peach crop, and those that survived also are running a week or more late. New England farmers have reported slow-growing corn, strawberries and tomatoes.

Winemakers such as Lee Lutes of Michigan’s Leelanau County say unless things warm up soon, they’ll have to leave grapes on vines well into fall, when a sudden cold snap could cause serious damage.

"If we can just have a warm August and a warm, sunny September we should be home free," Lutes said.

But, Angel said, the forecast for at least the next couple weeks suggests more unusually low temperatures are likely.


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