Weather Whisperers

Frozen: The Great Lake Story

Evelyn Browing Garriss and James J. Garriss

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Frozen Great Lake
Photo Credit:
NASA

♫ “The cold never bothered me anyway.” ♫

If you live near the Great Lakes, “Frozen” is not just something you see in the local theater. On March 6, 92.2% of the Great Lakes were covered with ice. Hopefully, the cold doesn’t bother you—because scientists are warning that the frozen lakes will chill the spring.

Normally the Great Lakes freeze, but this year has been ridiculous. The 40-year average ice coverage each winter is about 51% and recently it has been only 40% or less. However, after the recent record-shattering blasts in late February and early March Arctic blast during one of the persistently coldest winters in decades, the Great Lakes are approaching a record. Since record keeping began in 1973, only February 1979 (94.7 percent peak) had greater ice coverage.

Blasts of Arctic air have kept the Great Lakes frozen. Source: NASA

The good news is that all this ice will eventually melt and add to the lakes’ water levels. Scientists report that Lake Erie will gain 1.8 inches of water, thanks in part to a brief February warm-up that melted some its snowpack. Lakes Michigan and Huron should gain between four and eight inches and Lake Superior is expected to rise an astounding 9.5 inches.

Government officials are also warning that the massive amount of ice will also probably affect the weather for months to come.

Unfortunately, with all the ice reflecting sunlight before it can warm the ground, the surrounding communities can expect cooler temperatures. At the same time, with the ice preventing lake moisture escaping into the air, conditions are expected to be drier with less “lake-effect” heavy snowfall.

Good news: The ice means less Lake Effect snowfall. Source: NASA

Officials are concerned that if there is a fast melt this spring, all this ice could jam in rivers and streams, causing flooding. However, the frozen lakes could make cool temperatures enough to slow down the melt.

Certainly, experts expect the Great Lakes to cool temperatures this spring, and the cooling may even last into summer. So if the cold doesn’t bother you anyway, this is your lucky year. The ices of winter should lead to a mild, comfortable summer.

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There was a snow storm in the

There was a snow storm in the Marquette, MI area between 1965-1968 that I recall one snowfall that covered our cars and blocked all 1st floor doors and windows and a good portion of our second floor windows. We had to crawl out of our second story windows to get out after the storm. It was dark like night time in all areas of the ground floor...very eerie! Do you have any information on snow storms in Michigan during this period?

Summer is coming regardless!

Summer is coming regardless! The average temperature in the heart of summer in central VA is close to 90 degrees and we have the high humidity and severe thunderstorm threats every evening which is pretty typical for a summer day. We will occasionally have some cool Canadian air drop temperatures & humidity but admittedly, some of the most amazing summer days do come from these dry cool fronts. Think of clear days with hardly any clouds in the sky, full summer sunshine, temperatures holding in the upper 70s and low 80s and the refreshing warm breezes.

And I can say with confidence I have never had to wear a winter coat on July 4th!

Yes, summer is coming and it

Yes, summer is coming and it will be welcomed. It's the arrival of spring that has everyone guessing.

You say no lake effect snow

You say no lake effect snow because lakes are frozen but doesn't warm air over the ice have the same effect as cold air over a warm lake?

Not really. The major impact

Not really. The major impact is ice melting.

In the article you say " The

In the article you say " The 40-year average ice coverage each winter is about 51% and recently it has been only 40% or less. However, after the recent record-shattering blasts in late February and early March Arctic blast during one of the persistently coldest winters in decades, the Great Lakes are approaching a record. Since record keeping began in 1973, only February 1979 (94.7 percent peak) had greater ice coverage." But you do not tell us what the spring/summer was like in 1979? Could it indicate what our current spring/summer will bring? Great article, thank you.

According to our local

According to our local meteorologist of all the (approximate) 35 coldest winters we have had only 4 have been warmer then normal so I guess that might give you and idea of how summer is going to be. in 1979 4 of the 5 great lakes actually froze over solid. Only Lake Michigan didn't. I am not sure of the summer of 79 but I do remember wearing a coat on the 4th of July to the fireworks But I was also living in the Upper Penn, which that's not unusual.

When you have to wear a coat

When you have to wear a coat to the 4th of July, it's just way too cold. My family moved from Buffalo New York after I had to wear a snowsuit to the July fireworks.

I wasn't precise enough. Over

I wasn't precise enough. Over the past few years, the ice has averaged of 40% or less and I was referring to those years. You are right about the recent blasts in February and March.

Thank you for your compliment on the article.

I didn't describe the spring of 1979 because it had a lot of other weather factors that are different than this year.