Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Will The Cold Lead to More Ice On Lake Erie?

Totally Ice Covered Lake Erie in 2011

Here are my other blog posts over the last two winter about Lake Erie Ice Cover and temperature trends, lake effect snow:


Since the beginnings of this abnormally cold winter pattern about a week ago, people have asked what the ice conditions were on Lake Erie. Not surprisingly, the amount of ice coverage on the lake is about 1%, most of this is in the far western basin of the lake where the water depth is very shallow.

Overall Lake Erie Ice Concentration on 12-11-2013
Far Western Basin Lake Erie Ice on 12-11-2013
A recent photo from the south side of Kelleys Island confirms that ice is forming in other spots too in the western basin.

This is not all that unusual for this time of year. When we look at each winter since the early 1970s by December 11th, only 4 times has Lake Erie had more than 5% ice cover in the middle of December!  Environment Canada has a great website with all sorts of ice information for the Great Lakes.

The current conditions are lining up fairly well with ice cover averages for Lake Erie. The first red circle below shows little ice for mid December with a peak in early February.

Many conditions have to be present for ice to form on Lake Erie to include sustained cold air temperatures. If frequent storm systems pass over the lake featuring strong winds like we've had, the upper layer of water will be continuously stirred and overturned. This overturning causes mixing of different layers of different temperatures. In these conditions, widespread ice formation is difficult in the short term. Long term trends indicate that Lake Erie ice cover is showing a decrease of -0.74% per year. This is the smallest decrease of any Great Lake according to research.

Recently, the water temperatures have begun to drop in the upper 30s.

 A more high resolution look from Michigan State's Remote Sensing image shows spots falling into the lower 30s especially in the western basin.

Water temps are still markedly warmer closer to Cleveland and the eastern shoreline.

While the lack of ice cover currently is pretty normal per the 40 year averages, the colder pattern for early December is unusually strong nationally compared to recent years. IF this colder pattern continues into the beginning of January with a 8-10 day stretch of daytime highs in the lower to mid 20s with cold overnight lows without significant wind, Lake Erie will start to accumulate ice at an increasing rate.

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