Ice Flash! Looking at the Great Lakes

July 20, 2017
Frozen Great Lakes

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Remember last winter? (Shiver!) Ninety-two percent of the Great Lakes were covered with ice, the greatest amount since 1979.

The last ice didn’t melt until June! It acted like an ice box, cooling off the Midwestern spring. It reduced 7 million tons of vital Great Lakes shipping, costing the industry and consumers more than $705 million. Fortunately experts say there will be only a normal amount of ice this year. And experts are always right. Right?

They might be wrong. The Lakes have begun icing over 10 days earlier than last year, the earliest in more than 40 years. Currently the ice amount on the Lakes is almost equal to the ice cover at the same time last year. On January 16, 2015, the entire Great Lakes had an ice cover of 24.0 percent. On January 16, 2014 the Great Lakes total ice cover was 24.5 percent. It melted slightly over the next two days, but another cold front is approaching.

This year, Lake Erie froze in a flash.

The amount of ice varies from lake to lake. From Lake Huron (27.6%) and Lake Michigan (19.1%) to Lake Superior (10.2%) and Lake Ontario (4.4%) all of the lakes have some ice. However Lake Erie, the shallowest of the lake, froze the most. From January 6 to 16, only ten days, the lake went from 5% to 88% ice coverage! Even today, it has 77% of its surface glazed. Already the Coast Guard icebreakers are out to clear the lanes so that the region’s $2 billion of shipping can continue.

There is some good news about the recent freezing. When the lakes are cold, they don’t warm the air enough to cause heavy “lake effect” snow. This freeze will reduce the amount of snowing in weary Buffalo, New York and other downwind cities.

Also, frozen lakes bring out the enthusiastic (and strange) ice lovers. Now is the time to get out your ice skates and fishing gear. The lakes and ponds have turned to hockey rinks and the fish are biting.

So have fun. Just remember to check how thick the ice is. Few moments are more frustrating than watching your car settling into the lake for an icy bath!


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.