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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Projecting Changes in Snow, Lake Ice, and Winter Severity in the Great Lakes Region for Wildlife-Based Adaptation Planning

Project Leader:
Project Investigators:
Christopher Hoving (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
Michael Schummer (State University of New York at Oswego)
John Coluccy (Ducks Unlimited Inc, Great Lakes Atlantic Regional Office)
Karl Martin (CNRED State Program Director and Assistant Dean Cooperative Extension University of Wisconsin-Extension)
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
New York
New Jersey
West Virginia
North Dakota
South Dakota
+26 more


The goal of this project was to identify how winter severity, snowpack, and lake ice could change through the mid- and late-21st century, and how species such as the white-tailed deer and mallard duck will respond. Because currently available climate data is at too coarse a scale to provide information on future conditions for the Great Lakes, researchers transformed these models from a global-scale to a regional-scale. 
Using these models, researchers found that the region could experience substantial warming, reduced lake ice cover, and increased precipitation, with more precipitation falling as rain than snow, among other changes. Snow/ice cover limit foraging by waterfowl, thereby regulating the timing/intensity of migration and their distributions during non-breeding season. Reductions in weather severity could result in delayed autumn-winter migration for dabbling ducks, which would increase foraging pressures on wetlands in the Great Lakes region – highlighting the importance of protecting these wetlands. These changes in migration patterns could also lead to potentially significant economic losses in southern flyway states, as ducks may stay in the Great Lakes region during the winter months. The primary wintertime stressors for deer are air chill and snow depth, with extreme winters triggering population declines.

Changes in wildlife abundance and distribution can incur dramatic ecological, societal, and economic impacts. Warming may support expanded deer populations and overgrazing, while elevating infectious disease threats to deer. Annually in the U.S., 13.4 million people participate in deer and migratory bird hunting, generating $21.5 billion in revenue, with the hunting industry supporting 681,000 jobs. 
Predictions of the future distribution of ducks and other wildlife in the region will help guide the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Ducks Unlimited, and other stakeholders in developing conservation and adaptation strategies for vulnerable species and in mitigating the potential economic losses that might result from changes in species distribution.


Notaro, 2 November 2017, Wisconsin Science Festival, Kenosha, Wisconsin, "Wisconsin's Changing Climate"
Notaro, 19 October 2017, Navigating the Future of Water, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, "Dynamically Downscaled Hydrological Projections for the Great Lakes Basin"
Notaro and Schummer, 4 October 2017, Northeast Climate Science Center Webinar, "Wildlife Implications of Changing Winter Severity in the Great Lakes Basin: Collaborative Investigation to Guide Regional Adaptation Planning"
Schummer, Project results, The Wildlife Society Conference in Albuquerque, September 2017"Long-term trends and future projections of weather severity indices for dabbling ducks in eastern North America".​
Notaro, Project results at the Ecological Society of American Annual Meeting in Portland, August 2017 
Notaro, Projected changes in winter severity for the 21st century and implications for the migratory behavior of dabbling ducks in eastern North America, July 2016, North American Congress for Conservation Biology, Madison, Wisconsin.
Notaro, Climate change in Wisconsin: Historical trends, projections, impacts, and adaptation, June 2016, Forest County Potawatomi Community (FPCP) Climate Change Adaptation Workshop, Crandon, Wisconsin
Schummer, Weather severity indices for estimating influences of climate on autumn-winter distributions of waterfowl and hunter opportunity and satisfaction, February 2016, Seventh North American Duck Symposium, Annapolis, Maryland.
Vanden Elsen, Factors influencing autumn-winter distributions of dabbling ducks in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, February 2016, Seventh North American Duck Symposium, Annapolis, Maryland."
"Notaro, Potential impacts of changing winter conditions during the 21st century on the migratory behavior of dabbling ducks in eastern North America, January 2016, Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Notaro, Dynamically downscaled projections of lake-effect snow in the Great Lakes Basin, May 2015, American Geophysical Union Joint Assembly, Montreal, Canada.
Schummer, Weather severity indices for estimating influences of climate on autumn-winter distributions of waterfowl and hunter opportunity and satisfaction, July 2015, Atlantic Flyway Tech Section, Albany, NY.
+7 more


Interview with Steve Elbow, Madison's Capital Times, regarding Wisconsin and Great Lakes' climate change and ecological implications, October 2017. 

Interview with WORT 89.9FM Madison community radio, regarding Wisconsin and Great Lakes' climate change, impacts, and policy, July 2017.​

Website Launch: The weather severity index-based historical mallard migration website has been put online.

News: Secretary Jewell Announces new Wildlife and Climate Studies at the NE CSC. December 18, 2014.

Webinar: A Weather Severity Index for estimating influences of climatic variability on waterfowl populations, waterfowl habitat, and hunter opportunity and demographics.  March 12, 2015.


Wisconsin Public Radio, Climate Change Causing Higher Temperatures, More Rain In Wisconsin, Dec 5, 2017.

Dr. Notaro was interviewed by WORT Community Radio, leading to two radio shows in September 2015: Effects of Climate Change on Health and the Great Lakes, and The Science and Effects of Climate Change.  In both interviews, Dr. Notaro discussed some of the downscaling projection work under the NE CSC project.

Syracuse Post Standard, “Study: Less lake effect snow, more rain near Great Lakes as climate changes”, December 2014.

UW-Madison Nelson Institute news item, “Nelson study on winter severity among new research funded by Northeast Climate Science Center”, December 2014.

Wildfowl Magazine website, “Read & react: Are duck migration patterns changing?”, October 2014.