Record Great Lakes Ice Coverage Will Control Spring Weather

By Brian Lada, Meteorologist
April 23, 2014; 2:09 AM
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Although spring may be in full swing, more than one-third of the Great Lakes remains covered in ice.

The harsh cold from this past winter resulted in extensive ice coverage over the Great Lakes, making it the second highest ice cover on record for the lakes.

Since its peak coverage of 92.19 percent on March 6, 2014, the ice has been melting slowly but still remains to some extent on each of the five lakes.

"Great Lakes ice coverage is shrinking but is still incredibly high for this time of year," said AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson. "Even though the ice cover on the Great Lakes has steadily declined over the past month, the area of ice that remains is the highest in over 30 years and more than two times higher than the second highest extent for the same week back in 1996."

This image, acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite, shows the Great Lakes on Feb. 19, 2014, when ice covered 80.3 percent of the lakes. (Satellite Image/MODIS)

As of April 16, 38 percent of the Great Lakes were covered in ice.

"Normally, only about 3 percent of the Great Lakes are still covered with ice at this time of year," said Anderson.

Looking back at 2010 and 2012, the ice on the lakes had completely melted by the second week of April.

In addition to causing cooler weather around the lakes and areas downwind in the Northeast well into spring, the ice has had a negative impact on a variety of businesses that are dependent on the lakes to transport materials.

According to the Associated Press, the ice has caused major problems for the steel industry and has forced the temporary closure of the largest steel mill in the United States.

Steel mills are just one of the many businesses that rely on ships to transport goods and materials by traveling on the open waters of the Great Lakes.

Even though the lakes have significantly less ice than when coverage peaked in early March, some ships still rely on icebreakers to cut paths through the ice for ships to travel.

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With warmer days on the way, the ice will continue to melt but will still leave behind below-normal water temperatures.

These chilly waters will continue to influence areas near and downwind of the Great Lakes, as well as folks looking to take to the water for fishing, boating and other recreational activities.

The colder water may also influence different types of weather that typically occur around the lakes.

"The presence of chilly water could reduce the threat of severe weather by keeping the atmosphere more stable," Anderson said. "Fog could be more widespread than usual early in the summer as well."

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