Cold lake! Cold business?


After this winter's extreme cold, a popular tourist draw in southwest Michigan, the lake, is colder than normal.

Lake Michigan rarely ices over, mainly because of its size, and its frigid temperatures could affect area businesses.

Just last month, on March 6, more than 93% of Lake Michigan was entirely covered in ice.

Lake temperatures plunged, and getting the water to warm up could take months, leaving many to wonder if summer will be a bummer?

With more than 1,600 miles of shoreline and more than 1,100 cubic miles of water, Lake Michigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes.

It strongly influences the weather in southwest Michigan.

Lake water is slower to warm up than the land, meaning cool air conditions could continue well into May, leading to what could be a sluggish start to the tourist season.

On a warm sunny day, as many as 1,500 people visit Kilwin's in downtown St. Joseph, enticed by homemade waffle cones, caramel apples and fudge.

Some weeks, they scoop 200 tubs worth of ice cream.

"How worried are you that we're not going to shake the wind and cold?," asks WSBT Reporter Denise Bohn.

"I'm not even going to go there. I'm just going to think that we are. It's going to get nice and warm and sunny, and it's going to stay," said Janet Dykstra, owner of Kilwin's.

That optimism has kept Dykstra and her husband Phil in business, despite weather challenges, for 16 years.

"We're sort of like a farmer; you just learn that's how it is," explained Dykstra.

It's not sweet-treats but the thrill of the big catch that keeps Rick Kraklau's 32-year-old fishing charter business afloat.

"We can handle fish in the 30-pound class with no problem," said Kraklau while reeling in a line.

And weather is a key factor for whether his boat, appropriately named, Risky Business, ever leaves the dock.

"People don't want to fish in conditions like this; it's unbearable," Kraklau said as a 40 mile per hour cold wind whipped the cover of his boat.

But Kraklau is confident once the air temperature rises, the extra cold lake water will actually make for great fishing.

"The longer the lake stays cold, I think our coho salmon will stay here on the south end of the lake before they migrate."

According to the NOAA CoastWatch website, the average lake temperature this time of year is 45.

Tuesday afternoon, the water at Weco Beach in Bridgman registered about 38.

Depending on the wind direction and speed, the lake can turn over very quickly, dropping several degrees in just a matter of hours.

The colder the better for AEP's DC Cook Nuclear Power Plant.

"Our units are more efficient when the water is colder," said Bill Schalk, AEP spokesman.

The facility pumps 1 1/2 gallons of lake water per minute into its intake system to condense steam from the turbines to create electricity.

"We can swing in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 megawatts from the summer to the winter, and that's enough to power a small size city," explained Schalk.

So while some businesses benefit from a frigid Mother Nature, others, like Dykstra, are seeking a higher power for some relief.

"I just pray every day that God sends us some beautiful weather and lots of customers," said Dykstra.

Most of the businesses that rely on warmer weather contacted for this story said they believe the cold snap will break and things will improve, andthey believe this season could end up being one of their best, because after the horrible winter, the thought is people are dying to get out and enjoy the lake...even a cold lake.

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