Great Lakes Ice Cover Reaches 70 Percent

Posted at 4:52 PM, Feb 04, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-04 17:43:51-05

WEST MICHIGAN — We know it’s been a cold winter, but perhaps there’s no better tell-tale sign of Arctic blast after Arctic plunge than when our Great Lakes almost freeze over. It’s quite rare! Having been a Michigander all of my life and a West Michigan resident for the past 13 years, I never recall this much ice coverage across our fine set of lakes. As of now 70.7 percent of all the Great Lakes are frozen.

In fact, it’s so icy from the lakeshore out as far as the eye can see that the National Weather Service has actually stopped producing their nearshore marine forecast since there’s little/no open water. It’s hard to believe that Lake Michigan will even get warm enough to swim in this summer after temperatures this cold.

It’s interesting to look at the ice coverage map below. I would expect a big open area over Lake Michigan and even Lake Superior and Lake Huron. But why the lack of ice on Lake Ontario? Ontario is deeper than Lake Erie and has a far longer fetch with its west/east orientation. Prevailing westerly winds and that long fetch keep the water stirred up enough to prevent a significant ice build up. What we notice is an ice build up on Lake Ontario on the east end of the lake as winds push the ice accumulation. That, plus the fact that the lake narrows to form the beginning of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Take a look at this high-resolution satellite imagery of Lake Michigan below. I’ve circled most of the areas with appreciable ice. Note that Green Bay is totally frozen, as are the Straits of Mackinac.

According to NOAA and the Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System, Lake Michigan is about 55.1 percent covered with ice. Lake Superior is about 83 percent covered. Lake Huron around 75.5 percent, Lake Erie 90 percent (due to being so shallow), and Lake Ontario only 16.9 percent for reasons stated earlier.

The main photo attached to this story was submitted by FOX 17 viewer David Smoes. He ventured out on the ice in Grand Haven at the end of the pier and snapped the photo. Note the wall of thick ice plastering the front of the lighthouse at the end of the pier. There’s far more ice further out from shore as far as the eye can see I’m told!

The year with the highest concentration of ice in recent times was back in 1979 with more than 94 percent of the entire Great Lakes covered! We also came close again in 1994. See graph below.

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