CHICAGO (CBS) — We’re still in the clutches of unseasonably cold temperatures. Lake Michigan remains more than half covered by ice.
And, snow still covers the ground in many locations with even more headed our way. Believe it or not, this wild winter weather does have some benefits.
Ice cover on the Great Lakes reached 88 percent in mid-February, which was the fourth highest amount of ice cover in the past 40 years.
How is that actually beneficial to the Great Lakes? Bob Kirschner, Director of Restoration Ecology at the Chicago Botanic Garden said “The ice cover now, is helping reduce evaporation rates… that should help stabilize at least somewhat what the Great Lakes’ water levels are.”
Levels which have been dropping in recent years. Kirschner said there are other benefits as well on land.
“It’ll also help protect fragile shoreline environments such as at the Indiana Dunes Lakeshore from the waves eroding away at the dunes,” Kirschner said.
“Actually there’s a borer there. You see he’s curled up,” asked Tom Tiddens, supervisor of plant health care at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
And, what about those pesky insects we all dread in the springtime? For example, Tiddens keeps an eye out for weather impacts on the notorious emerald ash borer. Some larvae have been able to survive our more than 20 days of subzero temperatures so far this winter.
“They actually produce a natural antifreeze,” said Tiddens.
In Minnesota, where temps have dipped lower for longer, it’s estimated that as much as 90 percent of the insects might have died.
“It takes a temperature of about minus 25 to start having a serious affect on the emerald ash borer,” said Tiddens.
We’ve had so much snow, how does that impact the trees and the plants coming into the spring season?
“The smaller plants the ground covers the bulbs. those that are underneath the ground are actually being insulated by that,” said Morton Arboretum tree specialist Joe Rothleutner.
He said when the snow finally melts it will provide beneficial moisture for trees and plant root systems. But, the cold could be bad news for some plants that keep their flower buds over the winter and bloom early in the spring, like forsythia.
But good news is that if the cold continues, it could delay spring allergies.
“Where we’re going to see the most impact on the allergy season is if we get a really late frost or a really late freeze after the trees are starting to come out of their slumber in the spring.”
The average last frost here in Chicago is around April 20.
Most insects including those ants we see every spring will survive this deep freeze as will animals like skunks, possums and coyotes.
When ice melts on lakes and rivers, don’t be surprised to see dead fish that ran out of oxygen over the course of the winter.