AccuWeather.com reports that with no end in sight, the winter of 2014 rages on, ushering in frigid Arctic air and dumping record-breaking snow and ice on much of the nation. This season, ice coverage on Lake Superior has exceeded other measurements in recent history.
“By the long shot this is the most ice we’ve had on Lake Superior in 20 years,” Associate Professor Jay Austin of the Large Lakes Observatory in Duluth, Minn., said.
During a typical winter, 30 to 40 percent of the Great Lakes are covered by ice, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.
Usually Arctic air swept over the Great Lakes creates lake-effect snow, but modifies the air, making it warmer. This usually makes regions from Ohio through the Northeast a little warmer than it otherwise would be.
Unlike a pond, the depth of the Great Lakes prevent it from being a completely frozen sheet of ice, but instead the ice atop the lakes can actually move with the wind, according to Austin. Due to the ability of the ice to move around, the thickness of the ice across the lakes vary and therefore researchers do not know how thick the ice is in all portions of the lake.
So, this makes it hard for scientists to define what freezing over entirely means.
Depending on who you ask, Lake Superior already has frozen over, Austin stated. However, with two to three weeks to go until the typical peak of ice coverage in mid-March, the Lakes will only freeze even more.
“With all of this ice, all the sunlight that hits the surface of the lake is going to get bounced back out into space, so it’s going to take longer to get warmer this spring and summer,” Austin said. “The lake is going to just start warming this year when it will start cooling off for next year.”
This could bring a relatively cool year for the communities surrounding the lake.
However, the silver lining of the massive ice coverage is that perhaps it can prevent lake water levels from lowering like they did just last year.
“With the ice cover, less water gets evaporated so lake levels stay high and help preserve some of the water,” Anderson said.
An impending return of the now-infamous polar vortex for the middle of next week ill send temperatures from the Midwest to the Northeast plummeting 15 to 20 degrees below normal. As it drops down to the James Bay in Canada, it will deliver another blast of arctic air for the area.
“This type of airmass will give the Great Lakes the potential for a new satellite-era ice coverage record,” Anderson said.
The winters of 1993 and 1994 had the previous highest since we started monitoring ice coverage with satellites about 30 years ago.