Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Where is the Lake Erie Ice? Will it freeze over this winter?

Living in Cleveland, Ohio, the lake just to our north plays a major role in our wintry weather. Lake effect snow especially early on in the season can produce more than 24 inches of snow in a very short time. The relatively warm water of Lake Erie (temps between 40 and 50 degrees) in November and early December provide a surplus of moisture necessary for the creation of full blown lake effect events. All that is needed is cold air.  This winter trough the end of December, we haven't had much.  The absence of cold air keeps the lake free of ice. 

All of this begs the question:  Will Lake Erie freeze over this year?

Go back to last winter when we had 18 of 31 days in December with temps in the 20s. The lake water temperature went from 45 degrees on December 1st to 33 degrees on December 24th. The ice cover for December 20th looked like this: 

RED indicated 80%+ ice cover. Notice the open water in white.

January of 2011 continued with temperatures below averages with 20 of 31 days in the 20s or colder. Ice development on the lakes tends to lag several weeks after the cold air starts.  Here is the ice cover map on January 2nd.
The ice started to develop further east
Now the ice cover map for January 17th, only 15 days later.

80% ice cover spread across most of the lake

Finally, the ice map for January 27th.

80% to 100% ice cover over much of the lake 
How about this year? Temperatures in December of 2011 stayed well above normal. Only one day had a high BELOW FREEZING! The lack of ice on lake erie isn't that surprising.
Ice cover for December 20th

How about January 2nd? A little bit of ice over the western basin where the water is shallow indicated with the light blue color.

Even the ice coverage is less than 10%
How about the rest of the month? We are running way behind in ice development. Below is the actual satellite photo of the open water of Lake Erie on December 26th.  The white on the right is cloud cover

A two week arctic outbreak would be needed to drop the lake water temperature to 33 degrees. The current temp is 39 degrees!  Remember last year, we fell below 39 on December 9th! It would take some time for the water temp to fall to 32-33 degrees before widespread ice would form.  I just don't see this happening. Maybe 50% coverage by early February. If it doesn't happen by early February, the water temps will start to climb. Even last year, the water temp was in the upper 30s by the end of February and above 40 by March 13th.

All of this means that when it does get cold even for a day or two, lake effect snow will be more common and might last into February and March. Whereas last year, lake effect snow ended in mid January. 

Just our luck.


Anonymous said...

Scott, all this is why your the man

Anonymous said...

Well done, Scotty.