Great Lakes Ice Coverage Winter 2022

The increased temperature of the Great Lakes will likely cause a delay in ice formation in all of the Great Lakes. The shallow areas of the region, Lake St. Clair, Saginaw Bay, and Green Bay are in the beginning stages of forming ice cover, As of December 1, ice cover stands at 0.1%. The Great Lakes are mostly ice-free.

Estimates of First Ice Coverage on the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor Michigan compiled data from 1973 through 2002. Their data gave an excellent estimate of when the first significant ice coverage can be expected by month.

Average Date of First Ice on the Great Lakes
Average Date of First Ice on the Great Lakes – NOAA

December Great Lakes Ice Coverage

December ice begins to form and accumulate in shallow bays and inlets along the shoreline of the Great Lakes. The most notable areas are Thunder, Black, and Nipegion Bays in northwest Lake Superior. The North Channel, Georgian, and Saginaw Bays in Lake Huron. Green Bay and Big Bay De Noc on Lake Michigan. Most of Lake st. Clair. Sandusky Bay and most of the western shore of Lake Erie.

January Great Lakes Ice Coverage

By January each winter there is significant ice accumulation along the shallow shorelines of all the Great Lakes. The exception to this historical observation is the northwest shore of Lake Ontario near Toronto to Oshawa. This area can remain as open water for most of the winter. The shallow Lake Erie is expected to freeze over in its entirety by the end of January.

February Great Lakes Ice Coverage

The peak of first ice coverage in the middle areas of each of the Great Lakes occurs in February. Most of Lake Superior will have mid-lake ice coverage except for the area north of Munising which may be open water all winter long. Historically most of Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario do not freeze over. This phenomenon contributes to the establishment of a common weather pattern that occurs most of the winter along west Michigan and upstate New York; Lake Effect Snow. The majority of Lake Huron freezer over by February except for the open water north of Michigan’s Thumb.

Current Great Lakes Ice Coverage – Daily Report – January 19, 2022

Great Lakes Water Temp and Ice Coverage
Great Lakes Current Ice Coverage – Refresh Your Browser to Update – NOAA

NOAA imaging is showing the water temperature dynamically changing in the past few days on Lake Superior, Lakes Michigan-Huron. and Lake Ontario, with its deep 800 foot waters.

NOAA reported total coverage of the Great Lakes at about 0.1% as of December 1st, 2021. This level can be compared to the same-day levels in prior years. On this date, last year’s ice coverage was 0.1%, in 2019 it was 0.2%, in 2018 it was 0.6% in 2017 it was 0.1%, in 2016 it was of the winter. As of March 6th, NOAA reports that coverage has dropped to 16.1%

Lake Superior Ice Coverage and Temperature – January 19, 2022

Note: Images and Graphs Do Not Display If Data is Unavailable

Lake Superior Ice Coverage
Lake Superior Ice Cover – Refresh Browser To Update – NOAA

Lakes Michigan-Huron Ice Coverage and Temperature – January 19, 2022

Note: Images and Graphs Do Not Display If Data is Unavailable

Lakes Huron-Michigan Ice Cover
Lakes Huron-Michigan Ice Cover – Refresh Browser To Update – NOAA
Lakes Huron-Michigan Water Temp
Lakes Huron-Michigan Surface Temps – Refresh Browser to Update – NOAA

Lake Erie Ice Coverage and Temperature – January 19, 2022

Lake Erie Ice Coverage
Lake Erie Ice Coverage – Refresh Browser to Update – NOAA
Lake Erie Water Temp
Lake Erie Water Temp – Refresh Bowser to Update – NOAA

Lake Ontario Ice Coverage and Temperature –January 19, 2022

Note: Images and Graphs Do Not Display If Data is Unavailable

Lake Ontario Ice Coverage
Lake Ontario Ice Coverage – Refresh Browser to Update – NOAA
Lake Ontario Water Temp
Lake Ontario Water Temp – Refresh Browser to Update – NOAA

Estimated Great Lakes Ice Cover & Thickness 2021-2022

The areas that saw the highest coverages during the winter of 2021 were Green Bay off of Lake Michigan, Saginaw Bay, North Channel, and Georgian Bay off of Lake Huron, Apostle Islands and Thunder Bay in Lake Superior, Lake St. Clair, Western Lake Erie, and the 10,000 islands area of eastern Lake Ontario.

The ice bridge between Minnesota’s North Shore and Isle Royale was evident, barely.

Note: Images and Graphs Do Not Display If Data is Unavailable

Great Lakes Ice Coverage Thickness
Current Estimates of Maximum Ice Thickness – Refresh Your Browser to Update – NOAA

In mid-January, the Great Lakes had an average ice coverage of 10-15%. The primary reason for the initial low ice cover in 2021 is that the region experienced temperatures 3 to 8 degrees above normal. This warmer than average winter will likely mean less ice coverage. Estimates by NOAA placed the highest ice coverage at 30%, occurring in late February.

What Does The Lack of Ice Coverage Mean?

When the Great Lakes don’t freeze over, there is more evaporation. This puts moisture in the air resulting in more cloudy grey days across the region. If a cold snap does occur accompanied by wind, the chance for heavy, localized lake effect snow may occur. Due to higher than normal lake levels, beach erosion and lakeshore flooding may be more likely.

What is The Long Term Great Lakes Average Ice Coverage Rate?

The long-term average for maximum Great Lakes ice coverage is about 53.3%. This record high coverage rate for the Great Lakes was 94.7%, set in 1979. The record low ice coverage in the Great Lakes was 11.9% set in 2002.

Great Lakes Ice Coverage Averages
Great Lakes Annual Max Ice Coverage 1973-2020

Ice coverage data is from NOAA and updated daily. Great Lakes water level data is reported monthly from the Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District.

Forecast of Future Ice Coverage with Climate Change

One study from 1991 hinted that increased CO2 levels across the Great Lakes region would lower ice coverage. Data from 30 years was extrapolated with varied increases in CO2. The potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts of increased CO2 warming include year-round navigation, change in abundance of some fish species in the Great Lakes, discontinuation or reduction of winter recreational activities, and an increase in winter lake evaporation.


Current Great Lakes Water Level Report

The report below is interactive and you can control the display. Click on the image to access the dashboard in a new tab.

Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard
Great Lakes Dashboard – Courtesy GLERL

The Detroit Army Corps of Engineers has kept records of Great Lakes ice coverage going back to 1973. The map shows the extent of the maximum ice cover on the Great Lakes for each year. Data is from the U.S. National Ice Center and the Canadian Ice Service. Satellite data is combined with other sources to translate daily ice charts into a percent cover pixel grid.

It is sporadic for all the Great Lakes to freeze over entirely. Yet they experience substantial ice coverage, with large sections of each lake freezing over in the coldest months. During the winter of 2013-2014, frigid temperatures covered the Great Lakes and the 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 freezing temperatures but sunny clear days and nights.

Impact on 2022 Great Lakes Water Levels

Great Lakes Water Levels
Great Lakes Water Levels

Ice cover will lessen the impact of evaporation of the 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 early January will be a strong indicator if the Great Lakes will approach total ice coverage in the spring of 2020. A high rate of ice coverage will likely mean higher record-setting Great Lakes water levels in the summer of 2020.

Ice Tsunami Destroys Homes Along Great Lakes Shoreline

This shows the power of water and ice when a little wind gets behind an ice flow near shore.

Related Great Lakes Ice Coverage and Water Level Reporting

Falling Through Ice

In the winter of 2018, there were two deaths and one rescue on the Saginaw Bay ice in the Upper Thumb in early February. Each year we are sent reports of rescue and recovery of those who snowmobile or ice fish on the Great Lakes. We found a short video that describes the steps to survive falling through ice even if you can’t get yourself out of the water. It’s a fight for survival. How to Survive Falling Through the Ice


Emergency Car Kit Ice Scraper

Great Lakes winters can be brutal. Getting your car ready for winter is critical. Winter will be colder and drier than normal, with the coldest temperatures in mid-to-late November, through greatest in December and January, and in early to mid-February. Snowfall will be near average in the region, although a few places south of the Great Lakes will have much-above-normal snowfall. The recent cold snap in 2021 means more snow and ice for the rest of the winter. Four Ways to Get Your Car Ready for Winter


Caseville Harbor Low Water 2013

Five years ago, the entire Great Lakes was witness to low water levels not seen since 1964. Marina’s were dredging; boats were being damaged on shallow reefs not seen a generation, and lake shipping was facing hard times. There was serious concern about how far it would go and what would happen next. A Look Back – 2012 Marina’s Scramble as Water Levels Dropped


Huge Wave

A look back at Great Lakes water levels. Reports and estimates from a November 2019 update from the Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District pointed to an outlook that meant the Great Lakes would continue to rise and break records in 2020. 2020 Great Lakes Water Levels Look to Break Records


Beach

We take updates each month from the Army Corps of Engineers’ extensive reporting and summarize on a single page each month. We break down reports for each of the five Great Lakes and include an extensive three-year estimated forecast of water levels. We also include historical data and analysis for researchers. It’s one of our most-read pages on Thumbwind. Excepts – Detroit District’s Monthly and Weekly reports for Great Lakes Water Levels and Great Lakes Water Level History. 2021 Great Lakes Current And Historical Water Levels


Cover Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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