The Great Freeze Over The Great Lakes

This image shows the Great Lakes on February 19, 2014, when ice covered 80.3 percent of the lakes.

This image, acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows the Great Lakes on February 19, 2014, when ice covered 80.3 percent of the lakes. Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA

At night, as cold settles in, lake ice creaks and groans. It’s been excessively cold, and I camped exposed on the snow-swept surface. Other than the lack of vegetation and the sounds at night, you’d never know you were on a lake. It feels like an empty plain. In some places, you see pressure ridges where ice has pushed into itself, sticking up like clear blue stegosaurus plates.  — Craig Childs

Author Craig Childs is not describing an Arctic lake. He’s describing the bitterly cold and frozen scene on Lake Superior, during his February 2014 trek on the ice near the coast of Ashland, Wisconsin.

Zoom out to view the scene from a satellite perspective and it’s apparent that Lake Superior is not the only lake to feel the freeze. The true-color image above, from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows the mostly frozen state of the Great Lakes on Feb. 19. On that date, ice spanned 80.3 percent of the lakes, according to NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.  

The ice reached an even greater extent on Feb. 13, when it covered about 88 percent of the Great Lakes – coverage not achieved since 1994, when ice spanned over 90 percent. In addition to this year, ice has covered more than 80 percent of the lakes in only five other years since 1973. The average annual maximum ice extent in that time period is just over 50 percent. The smallest maximum ice cover occurred in 2002, when only 9.5 percent of the lakes froze over.

Scientists say it’s understandable that the Great Lakes have had so much ice this year considering the cold temperatures in the region that persisted through the winter. Cold air temperatures remove heat from the water until it reaches the freezing point, at which point ice begins to form on the surface, explained Nathan Kurtz, cryospheric scientist NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“Persistently low temperatures across the Great Lakes region are responsible for the increased areal coverage of the ice,” Kurtz said. “Low temperatures are also the dominant mechanism for thickening the ice, while secondary factors like clouds, snow, and wind also play a role.”

In early February 2014, writer Craig Childs looked out at the frozen Lake Superior from the Apostle Island Coast.

In early February 2014, writer Craig Childs looked out at the frozen Lake Superior from the Apostle Island Coast. The last time visitors could reach the area by foot was in 2009. Image Credit: Craig Childs

The freeze this year has local implications, including possible changes to snowfall amounts in the Great Lakes area, explained Walt Meier, also a cryospheric scientist at NASA Goddard. When the lakes are primarily open water, cold air picks up moisture from the relatively warm and moist lake water, often resulting in lake effect snow on the lee side of the lakes, on the eastern and southern shores. When the lakes freeze, the lake effect generally shuts down. “Although this year, they’re still picking up a fair amount of snow,” Meier said.

Lake levels could also see an impact by summer, as winter ice cover generally reduces the amount of water available to evaporate during winter months. If that turns out to be the case, it would be “good news for local water supplies, as well as for shipping and recreational use,” Meier said.

It remains to be seen when the Great Lakes will once again freeze to the extent reached in 2014, or at least enough to allow adventurers to reach the ice caves at Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore by foot.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Climate by scientists at NOAA’s Great Lakes lab, which included data from MODIS, found that winter season ice cover on Lake Superior has decreased 79 percent from 1973 to 2010. The study also showed that ice cover on the lakes is highly variable and difficult to predict.

The harsh season this year “is a reminder that winters are variable and that weather can always throw an outlier our way,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Source: NASA AQUA satellite page

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Readers might note that the reason that the ice coverage abruptly went from 88% to 80% likely had to do with wind compacting the ice, not any temperature change – Anthony

Related: The Great Lakes may hit record ice cover this year

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cnxtim

Can’t wait to hear how the first of the warmists blame this on AGW.
Musing that in the dark ages, they used to persecute and execute the ‘scientists’ of the day, I think they were onto something…..

Steve from Rockwood

A 2012 study in the Journal of Climate by scientists at NOAA’s Great Lakes lab, which included data from MODIS, found that winter season ice cover on Lake Superior has decreased 79 percent from 1973 to 2010. The study also showed that ice cover on the lakes is highly variable and difficult to predict.

I won’t even comment on how stupid that statement is.
But I will say it’s going to be a very tough spring when all that ice starts to melt, with the frost so deep in the ground the water has nowhere to go for several weeks (other than downhill). It has been so cold around the Great Lakes for so long this winter that very little of the snow has melted. It just keeps building up.

JimS

Climate change is freezing all of our fresh water resources. It is worse than we thought.

Joe R

I bet the Polar Bears are happy now.

It sure makes Buffalo happy when it does freeze over. But I suspect the shipping companies are not too happy.

R Babcock

It will be interesting to see how much influence this much ice will have on the weather in the upper midwest of the US this spring. Right now it appears the arctic cold will persist through mid-March and with the warming south, there will no doubt be some doozy storms created at the boundaries of the two air masses through April. Lot’s of snow persisting into late Spring?
After that the colder waters of the Lakes will generate a lot of low cloud decks on the lee side keeping temps down. There is going to take a lot of energy to melt the ice and warm the water back to what we consider normal, if it makes it there. Then if we have another cold winter, what is next?
What a great science experiment coming up.

Brrrr.

Dave

The ice coverage jumped back up to 85.4% coverage in NOAA’s latest analysis. Temps are still well below freezing so Lake Michigan could freeze completely over in the next few days. Doubtful that Lake Ontario will get much more though…
http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/glcfs/glcfs.php?hr=00&ext=ice&type=N&lake=l

Leo Geiger

Another indication of cold winter weather becoming less common would be that it is apparently such an unusual thing this blog has dedicated a large number of posts to the subject this winter. Rare enough these days to be ‘newsworthy’ apparently.
I hear from some people in Europe who are poking gentle fun at North Americans while they enjoy an unusually mild winter. But that’s weather for you…

Seth Roentgen

Hardy Har. Here (northern Tohoku) we’ve had an easy winter. Only 5 metres of snow vs. 9 metre average and 16 metres for the past two winters. The Sea of Japan makes for a monstrous lake-effect. If this is glowbull worming, then bring it on 🙂

Bruce Cobb

The harsh season this year “is a reminder that winters are variable and that weather can always throw an outlier our way,” said Gavin Schmidt
Of course he’d say that with regard to colder and/or snowier weather. Anything on the warmer side of things though, is due to climate change, and is a “harbinger of things to come”.

Mervyn

Because the IPCC faithful have the upper hand with their climate change propaganda, I dread to think about the damage being caused by the political indoctrination occurring at all levels of the education system.

Paul Coppin

We count on Lake Erie freezing over. Frozen, it moderates the snowfall in February, and in the absence of strong polar flows (not this year!) makes for some very nice winter weather and manageable snowfalls. I don’t recall that Ontario has ever frozen completely over in my lifetime (66 years) – usually the east and west ends freeze to some extent. That leaves the Niagara frontier exposed to lake effect from the north when lows move up the eastern seaboard. My Cdn British ancestors figured out that holding ground on the north shores of the lower lakes was the smart move ca 1812. They were glad to let the yankee rebels and malcontents keep Buffalo 🙂

Truthseeker

Bob Tisdale says:
March 1, 2014 at 5:30 am
Brrrr.
——————————————
I just love it when Bob goes all technical and gets right into the details …

“Persistently low temperatures across the Great Lakes region are responsible for the increased areal coverage of the ice,”
No it wasn’t – it was the EVIL Koch Brothers and their army of no – good skeptics what done it!

Man Bearpig

The link for NASA Aqua is not working …

M. Hastings

“Persistently low temperatures across the Great Lakes region are responsible for the increased areal coverage of the ice,” Kurtz said.
What an astute observation! Not!

Jim

Wind? You ain’t kiddin’. Grand Rapids(Western Lower Peninsula) had a greater daily average wind speed last Friday, than the day that took the Edmund Fitzgerald down. That’s according to one of our local meteorologists. And as Steve says, we have not had much in the way of a mid-winter thaw, so there is a lot of snow. With a layer or two of ice underneath, and spring just around the corner, we are likely to see some major flooding in parts of Michigan. Maybe eclipsing last years flood.
pic from last year:
http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/21/17852725-fish-swims-by-window-in-grand-rapids-mich-floodwaters

Otter (ClimateOtter on Twitter)

Leo Geiger says:
March 1, 2014 at 5:32 am
Another indication of cold winter weather becoming less common would be that it is apparently such an unusual thing this blog has dedicated a large number of posts to the subject this winter. Rare enough these days to be ‘newsworthy’ apparently.
——-
Leo- Did you mean to say, Less common, since the Earth began to lift out of the last cycle of cooling, which ran from 1940 to about 1979? Or did you intend to leave it completely out of context?

Mohatdebos

My office overlooks the Detroit River in downtown Detroit. The river appears to be ice covered every morning when I get to the office, but much of the ice is gone by the time I leave in the evening. A Canadian and a U.S. ice cutter make sure of that. This is a long way of asking whether anyone has seen a study on the impact of ice breaking activities on global ice levels.

Bill Illis

Broke the record low temperature this morning where I live. Lots of record lows will be set in the next few days.
http://coolwx.com/record/globemovie.day.php

Gary Palmgren

The Accuweather St. Paul, MN forecast is predicting that we will be above average temperatures for 7 days for the month. Heading for a high today of 3 F and 4 F tomorrow. Average temperature is 34-35 F. We still have the snow that fell in November underneath a whole lot more snow. A guy from work died last week from falling while removing snow from his roof.
Can one learn how to hibernate?

Where I live in Australia it was over 100F today. In mid winter it gets down to 80F. It never snows, you can swim at the local beach all year round.
You guys have got to watch out for global warming – a few degrees of warming could ruin your life… 🙂

The harsh season this year “is a reminder that winters are variable and that weather can always throw an outlier our way,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

I trust Gavin said the same thing “in 2002, when only 9.5 percent of the lakes froze over.” /sarc

Pippin kool

philjourdan says: “It sure makes Buffalo happy when it does freeze over.”
Yes, no more big LE storms.
However, we still get lake effect snow, just watch the radar map over the next week or so. Because the flow of air over the lake surface is semi-laminar, the lower air layer is still warmed by the icy lake, increasing its moisture carrying capacity….and sublimation provides moisture. As the air meets land (or wind turbines*) the lower layer mixes with the colder upper layers, and out comes our lake fluff. Changes in altitude also help, so the ski hills south of the Buf do much better.
*Did you see the cloud plumes behind the wind turbines in the blog post on hurricanes here a few days ago?

Jim Cripwell

At least in Lanark County, Ontario, we can look forward to what may be a good harvest of maple syrup. We have had the right sort of winter. Persistent above 0 C temperatures are not predicted for at least 2 weeks, so we could get the right weather for lots of high quality maple sap.

“The harsh season this year “is a reminder that winters are variable and that weather can always throw an outlier our way,” said Gavin Schmidt…”
An outlier is better than an out-and-out-liar.

DaveF

Eric Worrall March 1st 6:07:
“….you can swim at the local beach all year round.”
Fantastic! (Apart from the sharks.)

I wonder if the models can handle the differences created by having ice where water is ordinarily open. I noticed earlier this winter, when Hudson Bay froze over early, the initial run of the GFS model had the air temperatures over the Bay, and down wind, way too high. If you start out the model wrong, things can’t get better.

Here’s some interesting trivia. The “Ice extent graphs” do include the Baltic Sea, which hasn’t frozen much this year, but don’t include the Great Lakes, which have. Adding the Great Lakes ice would make a sizable blip in that graph.

Claude Harvey

“Cold air temperatures remove heat from the water until it reaches the freezing point, at which point ice begins to form on the surface…”
I wonder how many taxpayer dollars THAT scientific revelation cost us?

Crispin in Waterloo

January in Waterloo was 10 degrees C below ‘normal’. February has been brutal. Snowfall in this ‘snow belt’ has been modest to say the least because so much of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay is frozen over. But the persistent cold means nothing that fell melted. My street looks like a Norwegian fjord.
Yesterday morning it was -29 C, breaking the all time record (1980) by a full 7 deg C. For the next few days Waterloo will be 15 to 20 C ‘below normal’…again. It is now March and the maple sap has not yet started to flow, it is so cold.
We are 2 degrees Latitude south of Portland Oregon. Our climate seems to becoming a lot more ‘continental’.

Steve from Rockwood

Ice extent for the Great Lakes going back to 1980. Looks like the average is about 35% but lots of variability.
http://ice-glaces.ec.gc.ca/prods/CVCHDCTGL/20140224180000_CVCHDCTGL_0007536113.pdf

Water contains latent heat which it loses when it turns to ice. As all that water froze it was releasing heat, (though I sure didn’t notice any, living 500 miles down wind.) Without those lakes releasing that latent heat it would have been colder. (Ordinarily the lakes suck heat from the air, through the process of evaporation, but the ice cut back on that.)
Conversely, in order to melt all that ice a lot of available heat is going to get turned into latent heat. Even though the ice may be at freezing and the melt-water may be at the same temperature, the mild air will get colder, as heat becomes latent. Then, when the ice is finally all melted, the lakes will still be colder than usual.
Although the lakes have the effect of warming northern blasts in the early winter, and [make a difference in the temperatures experienced by the people] living downwind in the Northeast USA, (including the big cities,) in the spring the situation is reversed. I expect the reversal will be particularly obvious this spring.

Coach Springer

It would be rare indeed to have no weather events to report. And Gavin would find that to be ominous as well.

Steve from Rockwood

There are never more than 2 years in a row with extreme ice extent.

Edit to above comment.
Change “…make a difference in the temperatures of the people…”
To “…make a difference in the temperatures experienced by the people…”
[You will find hot tempers experienced by people also make a difference in the temperatures experienced by people … Mod]

Gary Pearse

“Cold air temperatures remove heat from the water until it reaches the freezing point, at which point ice begins to form on the surface, explained Nathan Kurtz, cryospheric scientist NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.”
Nasa’s cryosphere scientist’s profound statement. If they believe the public is so dumb, no wonder there isn’t a lot of concern how shoddy climate science looks.

Alan Robertson

“It remains to be seen when the Great Lakes will once again freeze to the extent reached in 2014…”
_________________
I think that should read: …”to the extent reached in 1994“.

I understand “Climate Change” as climate changing, due to human-increased CO2, into a warmer climate, not colder. You know, animals migrating north, palm trees in Halifax, no more snow.

RealOldOne2

Steve from Rockwood says:
“Ice extent for the Great Lakes going back to 1980”

Steve, here’s the maximum GL ice coverage graph going back to the 1972-1973 season. It also shows how much each year’s value was measured and how much was “interpolated”.
http://bit.ly/1mRKIYz
You’ll notice that this year’s blue bar, which the graph defines as “Ice coverage” is higher than any other blue bar. Only by adding “interpolated” ice data, was the past ice cover greater than this year. Adding ice to the past, making the present look worse, situation normal.

Steve from Rockwood

@RealOldOne2. I wonder if interpolated ice is as cold as “real” ice? Thanks for the graph.

John Tyler

The frozen Great Lakes are proof positive of AGW!!! The debate is over!!!
Want more proof? Well here it is; the Russians just invaded the Ukraine; the S&P 500 is at record levels; the price of clarified butter in Bangladesh is trading within historical averages; JC Penny stock has bottomed out; the City of Rome, Italy, is on the verge of bankruptcy; the temperature in Miami, Florida, is nice and warm and average for the year, etc., etc.
NEED I GO ON !!!!! The AGW DENIERS MAKE ME WANT TO PUKE!!

maccassar

I have not seen bare ground since December 20. Jackson, Michigan had their underground municipal water pipes frozen causing major breakage and disruptions. I have no idea how deep they were buried but even in the severe winters of the 1970s I don’t remember that happening. When the temperature hits 20 F it feels like a heat wave,
I noticed something interesting on Thursday, a bright sunny day. At 1 pm with the temperature at +5F there was standing water everywhere. This time of year Mr Sun starts to trump the thermometer.

Eliza

You may note that most MSM newspapers that cherish AGW such as Chicago Tribune, Sydney Morning herald etc., do NOT allow comments! Speaks for itself ha.

R. Shearer

Theoretically, polar bears could easily walk to Ann Arbor.

Steve McIntyre

yesterday, even the sports talk shows were talking about the cold. According to the commentators, Edmonton had a high of -29 and a low of -41. The talk show said that the high on Mars (-22) was warmer than Edmonton.

RiHo08

Anthony
Great Lakes ice went from 88% to 80% at a time when the GL watershed experienced mid40’s temps and all that melted water ran into the Great Lakes. Lake Superior’s watershed was stuck in the Arctic cold so very little lake ice melting except at a few river’s mouths that empty into Lake Superior. Wiscosin and Michigan’s watersheds dumped both their watershed’s melt water combined into Lake Michigan which is why Lake Micigan has not completely iced over while Lake Huron had iced over a month earlier. Huron’s watershed has a relatively small part of the State of Michigan that receives melt water run off. Most of Lake Huron’s water comes from Lale Superior via the St. Mary’s River, coursing under thick ice to its St Clair River outlet. The lake that hasn’t iced over yet, and it appears to have a long way to go is Lake Ontario which receives the waters from the up stream Great Lakes including from the brief warming episode’s melt water. Lake Ontario’s immediate watershed is relatvely small.
During the 4 day warm spell, news outlets had video of ice dams rushing down river acting like a bulldozer. There were worries about the ice dams damming rivers and causing flooding. Lately the news outlets are again warning about watershed runoff, ice dams and flooding.

Psalmon

“Lake Superior’s rapid warming is like a canary in the coal mine,” Lenters told me. “We’re seeing changes in ice cover, water temperature, and evaporation that indicate major shifts are underway on the world’s largest lake.” Nat Geo article, Nov 20 2012 Warming Lakes: Climate Change and Variability Drive Low Water Levels on the Great Lakes
I think the canary froze to death this year.

zootcadillac

I have nothing intelligent to add except that I recall swimming in Lake Erie late September, from the north coast, south of London Ontario where I was living. The locals thought I was a bit mental. That’s as maybe but for a Brit of Scandinavian stock it was very pleasant 🙂
And then I heard how filthy it was…