Frozen: The Great Lake Story

January 29, 2016
Frozen Great Lake

Brrrr! On March 6, 92.2% of the Great Lakes were frozen over.


♫ “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.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.