WEST MICHIGAN — (February 8, 2014) Cold temperatures and snowy conditions have helped increase ice coverage on the Great Lakes in the last week. The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory now has the median ice coverage at 79 percent beating the winter of 2003, which had maximum coverage of 74.6 percent. This new average puts this winters ice coverage as the highest in this century.
As impressive as that statistic sounds, that is only 14 years of records in a century where 8 of those winters were well below average. There are more impressive statistics on this winter’s ice coverage especially when you compare this winter with the winter of 1979. The winter of 1979 holds the record for the all-time highest amount of ice coverage of the Great Lakes. The maximum coverage that year set a record of 94.76 percent. When you compare this week to the same week in 1979 we have 12.23 percent more ice (79% vs. 66.7%).
It wasn’t until a cold snap the following two weeks when the ice coverage increased from 66.7% to 94.76% on February 19th when the ice coverage broke the all-time record. So what does this all mean? It means that we could very well be on track to beat that record, especially with a few more cold and snowy days ahead. That is much more impressive than breaking a 14-year old record.
1979 was not the only cold year with impressive ice coverage, 1994 was another banner year for lake ice coverage. The winter of 1994 had ice coverage of 90.7 percent and when you compare our current ice coverage with that of the same week in 1994, we had only slightly less coverage (79% vs. 83.6%). It only took one more week for ice to reach 90.7%.
Temperatures will likely fall into the single digits overnight for three consecutive nights as we head into the beginning of next week, which may help inch ice coverage closer to tying if not beating the all-time ice coverage record. Calm winds also help in ice development and with a somewhat quiet pattern this will likely help increase ice formation. A slight warm-up towards the end of the week may hamper ice development but it will be short-lived as temperatures fall back into the teens and twenties by Friday.
Ice Coverage by lake: