Jesse Ferrell

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Clarification on Lake Erie 14 Year Freeze

February 17, 2010; 9:57 AM ET

Earlier this week I tweeted this article at last week that quoted the NWS in Cleveland, Ohio saying that Lake Erie had frozen over, and the article stated that the lake hadn't done so in 14 years. That article was also picked up by But today another article came out where the NWS said "it is fairly common for Lake Erie to freeze, and in an average Ohio winter, it is close to completely frozen most years."


Why the disagreement? It turns out that the 14 years idea was not a quote from the NWS-Cleveland office, but a a carryover from an article published before the freeze over quoting another NOAA employee who said "The lake hasn't completely frozen over since the winter of 1995-96, though it virtually froze over a year later, at 99.6 percent, on Jan. 28, 1997." Since that article was published before the supposed "freeze" and the NOAA scientist was not interviewed for the second article, the reporter put two and two together. I presume "completely frozen over" is defined differently by the two scientists. And while clouds obscured the lake from satellites at the time the article in question was written, the body of water was exposed Monday and (as you can see) is clearly not completely frozen over (though it might appear to be from the U.S. side where the ice meets the land).


So where does that leave us? I couldn't find the text data online that the NOAA scientist referred to, and that would answer the question best. But I did look at a series of loops back to 1999* which estimate ice coverage. I attempted to find the maximum ice cover during the winter (you can download my results here) and no, according to those, the current state of ice on Lake Erie does not exceed those of previous years on record, nor is it earlier than them, in fact 2007 and 2009 had more ice (although 2010 could still beat them if cold weather continues). In no seasons did the lake appear, from this data, to be completely frozen over. At first glance the 2010 analysis might not appear to agree with the satellite image above, but note that the image says the date of the last Ice Analysis was Feb. 9th. Hopefully when the next one comes out, it will clear some of this up.


*Only temperature, not ice, was not measured on these maps prior to 1999. Data was not available for 1/1 to 2/17 for 2009.

Comments (3):

mark combellack:

Well i have to say this makes a lot more sense, Winter temps in ontario have been fairly mild (and here in the Ottawa region what i would call very mild) and i couldn't for the life of me understand why Erie would have more ice cover this year. Thanks for the clarification.


Posted by mark combellack | February 18, 2010 4:47 AM


It was only last year when I recall seeing Canadian ice breakers and other large

ships becoming ice bound in the St. Lawrence.

We did have a cold snap then but I guess this year has been colder.

Posted by iceapsk | February 17, 2010 7:41 PM


I've lived and worked along the southeast side of Lake Ontario for many years. While Lake Ontario typically gets less ice than Lake Erie; there is usually at least some ice. However, this year and the last several years, there has been hardly any ice on the Lake.

Years past, the ice would reach all the way to the horizon, but right now there is almost nothing.

Posted by Andrew | February 17, 2010 4:55 PM

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Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.