The 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Adventures

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ice on the Great Lakes

 This has been a frigid winter with polar vortices, snowfall breaking decades-old records, and widespread ice formation on the Great Lakes.

Lake Michigan was just over 93% covered with ice on March 8, setting a new record.

Ice near Chicago

Overall, the Great Lakes were just over 
92% iced over on March 6, 
not quite breaking the record.

Windrow ice near Chicago

The lakes are dynamic, so the ice breaks up, gets pushed around, and then stacked near the shore making elaborate formations.

 Close shot of windrow ice

Peak ice coverage for each Great Lake this year:
  1. Lake Erie – 96.40% on March 6, 2014
  2. Lake Huron – 96.30% on March 6, 2014
  3. Lake Superior – 95.74% on March 5, 2014
  4. Lake Michigan – 93.29% on March 8, 2014
  5. Lake Ontario – 61.52% on March 6, 2014

Some reports stated that Lake Ontario has less ice coverage due to its volume-to-surface-area ratio, but this ratio is similar to Lake Michigan's which had higher ice coverage. I think it's more likely that the inflow from the Niagara River disrupts ice formation at the western end of the lake. The river also carries dissolved minerals from upstream into Lake Ontario which depresses the freezing point of the water. Another consideration is the effect of industrial and municipal usage and return of water at the western edge of the lake which may increase the temperature of the water. One additional factor may be the retention time for Lake Ontario which is only 6 years compared to Lake Michigan's 99 years. This means that the water in Lake Ontario is moving much faster than in Lake Michigan.

More information on ice on the
Great Lakes HERE.


  1. Loreen, have you been out on the ice yourself? It's an adventure I'm having only vicariously, but plenty of people have been busy providing that experience for me. What a winter!

  2. I wanted to get up to the ice caves near the Apostle Islands, but haven't able to do that yet. The ice is now becoming unstable and they will close access soon.

    I've been in Chicago most of the winter and the ice along the shore here is always getting pushed out into the lake by prevailing winds, so it's always unsafe.

    I saw the blog about the three guys who walked to North Manitou Island across the ice. WOW!