Ice formations in Lake Superior

Ask anyone in the U.P. why Lake Superior is so special and they’ll say it’s in the name.
Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:01 PM EST
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Ask anyone in the U.P. why Lake Superior is so special and they’ll say it’s in the name.

By surface area, Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake, with a surface area of 31,700 miles. It also houses 10% of the earth’s surface fresh water and has a direct affect on our weather. Lake Superior currently has less than 10% ice coverage. The National Weather Service says this isn’t unusual.

“If we look back to last year, and it was such a warm year, one of the warmest we’ve had on record,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Matt Zika. “Plus the water temperatures on Lake Superior have been above normal all last year through the early part of the winter and they’re currently a couple degrees still above normal. Thus, we haven’t accumulated a lot of ice.”

The amount of ice coverage on the lake plays a big part in determining how much lake effect snowfall we receive each winter.

“The more ice coverage we have [on] the lake, we lose the effect of the heat on the water boiling up into the atmosphere and causing our lake effect snow like we have occurring today,” said Zika.

Zika then explains what conditions lead to widespread ice on the lake.

“We need clear, calm nights for widespread ice to form across the great lakes. On days like today when it’s windy and cold, you have a lot of wave action out there, you may start to form some ice but then it quickly starts to break up,” said Zika.

When this ice breaks up, it gets pushed against the shore by the waves and forms nearly perfect cylindrical balls of ice. Lake Superior goes through cycles of ice coverage Zika says, with great coverage happening nearly once every decade.

“Basically about once every ten years we should get ice coverage in excess of 90%,” said Zika.

It’s still too early to tell if enough ice will form in the lower harbor of Marquette to allow for ice skating this winter. Either way, get out there and enjoy the beauty of Lake Superior this winter.

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