Great Lakes Ice Coverage Near Record Low

Great Lakes ice coverage is hovering along a record low for this time in the winter season. At the same time, Lakes Michigan and Huron have broken records for high water levels the last set 33 years ago. Ice cover is at a low point due to above-average temperatures that have dominated to entire Great Lakes region. The winter storm of Jan 17-18 actually caused ice coverage to drop. High winds broke up ice formation enough to drop ice coverage reports from 11% to 9%.

Caseville Webcam
Caseville Breakwall

Ice cover typically peaks in late February and early March. The winter of 2019 had a similar pattern of slow ice coverage. However colder conditions moved in and resulted in a total of 80% coverage in March 2019. The average yearly peak of ice coverage is 55.7%

Ice coverage data is from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and updated daily. Great Lakes water level data is reported monthly from the Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District.

Current Great Lakes Ice Coverage

It is very rare for all the Great Lakes to entirely freeze over. Yet they do experience substantial ice coverage, with large sections of each lake freezing over in the coldest months. During the winter of 2013-2014, extremely cold temperatures covered the Great Lakes and surrounding states. The persistent cold caused 91 percent of the Great Lakes to be frozen by early March 2014. This resulted in late winter of extremely cold temperatures but sunny clear days and nights.

Having open water during the winter months results in more lake effect snow along the western shorelines. It also increases cloudiness and fog. Open water mixed with ice contributes greatly to shore and beach erosion. Shore line “shelf ice” helps stabilizes breaches from being washed out during winter storms and high water levels.

Current Great Lakes Water Levels

The report below is interactive and you can control the display.

The Army Corps of Engineers – Detroit District is noting that as of January 17, 2020, the water levels of Michigan-Huron are expected to be 581.53 feet. That is roughly four feet above the January long-term average of 577.5 feet. This level is 3 inches above the record high last established in January 1987.

Ice Cover will Impact 2020 Great Lakes water Levels

Great Lakes Water Levels
Great Lakes Water Levels

Having high ice coverage would reduce the impact of evaporation of Great Lakes due to less exposure to the air. It also could lower the amount of lake effect snowfall in the region. Cold temperatures in late January will be a strong indicator if the Great Lakes will approach total ice coverage by February/March of 2020. A high rate of ice coverage will likely mean higher record-setting Great Lakes water levels in the summer of 2020.

Winter Storm Jacob

Related Reading

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2020 Great Lakes Ice Coverage and Water Level Weekly Update. With the Great Lakes at record high levels ongoing monitoring is critical  for those with shoreline property, sports fishermen and boaters. Weekly ice coverage updates from NOAA and monthly water level reports from the Army Corps of Engineers - Detroit District

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