More Ice on Great Lakes Now Than During 2014 Polar Vortex

By Barbara Hollingsworth | March 2, 2015 | 4:18pm EST


The Canadian Coast Guard ice cutter Griffon frees the 767-foot icebound freighter Arthur M. Anderson, which got stuck for five days on Lake Erie in late February. (Photo: Canadian Coast Guard)

( – The total ice cover of the Great Lakes is currently 88.3 percent, or 2.3 percentage points more than it was at the same time during last year’s polar vortex, when 86 percent of the lakes’ surfaces were frozen solid, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The ice accumulation is also much higher than the 51.4 percent long-term average since 1973. However, it is still short of the record of 94.7 percent, which was set on Feb. 19, 1979.

Lakes Erie, Huron and Superior are almost completely frozen over, according to NOAA’s Great Lakes Surface Environmental Analysis (GLSEA). Three quarters of Lakes Michigan and Ontario are also covered in ice.


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Ice cover on the Great Lakes currently runs from a high of 96.18 percent on Lake Huron to a low of 71.16 percent on Lake Michigan, Lt. David B. Keith, public affairs officer at the U.S. National/Naval Ice Center (NIC), told

As of Sunday, the ice cover on each lake was:

  • Lake Huron: 96.18 %
  • Lake Erie: 96.01 %
  • Lake Superior: 94.14 %
  • Lake Ontario: 76.13 %
  • Lake Michigan:  71.16 %

There is so much ice on Lake Erie that the Arthur M. Anderson, a 767-foot freighter, got stuck in it for five days late last month. The Coast Guard ice breaker Bristol Bay also got stuck in the 8-to-10-foot thick ice itself while on a mission to rescue the stranded freighter. Both vessels were finally released by the Griffon, a Canadian Coast Guard ice cutter.

Imagery from NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellite is used to take daily readings of the surface temperatures of the Great Lakes. NIC produces a twice-weekly overview of current conditions during the winter months.

According to the National Weather Service’s 30-day outlook for March, which was released on Feb. 28, below-average temperatures are predicted in the eastern half of the United States this month:

“The update to the March temperature outlook indicates an increased probability of below-normal mean temperatures over a more extensive area of the Eastern U.S. covering most regions east of the Rocky Mountains with the exception of the Southeast.”

However, NOAA does not believe that the Great Lakes ice record set in 1979 will be broken this year.

"I'm not expecting to break the record this year as we've got a ways to go (record is 94.76%, sounds closer than it actually is) but we may still see an increase of ice later this week with another cold push into the upper Midwest,” said Brian Jackson, NOAA’s Great Lakes ice analyst.

“Our maximum ice extent this year, so far, occurred on Saturday, Feb. 28, when we hit 88.75%. This puts this year in 5th place on record (since 1972).

  • Record: 94.76% - 1979
  • 2nd: 92.19% - 2014
  • 3rd: 90.7% - 1994
  • 4th: 90.06% - 1977
  • 5th: 88.75% - 2015

“It may be possible to move into 3rd or 4th place into this weekend, depending on how much the ice shifts and melts ahead of the colder air moving in," Jackson noted.

But Joe D’Aleo, co-founder of the Weather Channel, thinks that the record could be broken. During “the next 5-10 days, cold temperatures will help challenge the record,” he said in a blog post.

Ice formations on Lake Superior. (AP photo)

On Sunday, nearly 12,000 people visited the dramatic ice caves that have formed on Lake Superior near the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northwestern Wisconsin.

Last year’s frigid temperatures created thick surface ice, some of which persisted on Lake Superior until June, making the ice caves accessible to pedestrians for the first time in nearly five years.

Related: Weather Channel Co-Founder Predicting Snowier, Bitterly Colder Winter Ahead

Related: Satellite Data: No Global Warming for Past 18 Years

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