CADILLAC — With recent warm spells and rain turning Northern Michigan into a dreary mess the last couple of weeks, local businesses are impatient for winter to return.
Pilgrim Village Resort and Fishing Shop owner Steve Knaisel said their bait shop sales are decent so far this year, with locals enjoying mostly solid ice cover on both lakes, but their cottages and motels have been hurt by recent warmups.
Although anglers from as far away as Indiana and Ohio are coming to Cadillac to fish — the majority of lakes south of here still don't have full ice cover — Knaisel said his lodging numbers are down significantly compared to last year.
Forecasts last week didn't help: Knaisel said they had a number of lodging cancellations as a result of predictions of several inches of snow, along with the potential for electricity outages and hazardous roads — most of which didn't end up happening.
"Rain deteriorates the ice, including some of the better areas to fish on Lake Cadillac," Knaisel said. "We need some winter."
Caberfae Peaks manager Pete Meyer said this year so far has been "up and down," which leads to similar fluctuations in his business.
"There are more peaks and valleys," Meyer said. "More people come when winter is looking good, and less when it's bad."
Meyer said he'd like customer traffic to the resort to be more consistent, although he added that they try to anticipate staffing levels based on the upcoming forecast so they're not blindsided by a rush of business.
Since they can make their own snow and much of their clientele comes from downstate, it's almost more important for there to be decent snow in southern Michigan than in northern Michigan, Meyer said.
"It gets people thinking about (skiing and snowboarding)," Meyer said. "We had about 400 hours of snowmaking between mid-November and mid-December, so we can endure some warm stuff right now."
Some years, Meyer said they get snowmobilers stopping at the lodge for food and drinks. This year, that clientele has been virtually non-existent, he said.
Joy VanDrie, with the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau, said the decline in snowmobilers coming to the area is something that began around the time of the Great Recession in 2008.
"It can be an expensive hobby," said VanDrie, who added that inconsistent snowfall also has contributed to the drop in snowmobile visitors to this part of Michigan.
In recent years, VanDrie said off-road vehicles have come more into the spotlight as interest in snowmobiling has dwindled.
ORVs are starting to become more popular in northern Michigan, although VanDrie said there isn't as much access for them on public pathways as there is for snowmobiles.
VanDrie said in the coming months, the Visitor's Bureau will be part of a coalition working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to develop ORV easements on the M-115 and M-55 corridors.
She said this is an example of how they are trying to adapt to constantly changing weather conditions and emerging markets to keep Cadillac relevant for visitors and residents alike.
Lodging businesses in the Cadillac area recently informed VanDrie that they're not seeing as many reservations as they typically do this time of year. VanDrie said they're averaging around 46% occupancy, which is a big drop from the high of around 60% occupancy that normally see right now.
"We're not where we should be," VanDrie said. "It's because of the crazy weather."
Those looking for a return to more seasonal temperatures may be in luck this weekend, as forecasters say the Cadillac area could receive up to 10 inches of snow.
Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said a storm is expected to arrive in Cadillac on Friday night around 9 or 10 p.m., and drop snow well into Saturday.
Pydynowski said temperatures in December have been 2.8 degrees above normal and 8 degrees above normal so far in January. Rainfall also was slightly above average in December and is expected to be above average for January, as well.
Throughout next week, Pydynowski said conditions are expected to remain cold and relatively dry, with no major warmups expected.