Great Lakes set record for low ice in February, likely leading to warmer weather for the rest of the year

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In a typical Chicago winter, ice fishermen would still be running the frozen expanses of Lake Michigan, taking fishing rods, drills—even pop-up shelters.

Swimmers in fancy wetsuits would boost their already strong morning workouts by climbing icebergs or posing on glass-like ice.

But this is no ordinary winter.

Due to natural weather patterns as well as climate change, ice cover on the Great Lakes reached an all-time low in mid-February, with only 7% of the surface area of ​​the five lakes covered, instead of the expected 35% to 40%, according to to Jia Wang, an ice climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

This is the lowest ice cover for the February 13 date since 1973, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began keeping records.

“The significance of this is long-lasting, I believe,” Wang said. “For almost the entire ice season this year, the lake was wide open, except for a little bit along the shore. The impact will be that we will have a warmer spring and a warmer summer and an even warmer fall – and that will delay ice formation on the coming winter”.

Climate change played a role in the low ice cover, Wang said, but in this case, natural surface temperature patterns in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans had an effect that was many times stronger than human-induced warming.

These patterns can change the path of winds blowing from the west, bringing either relatively warm winter air from the western United States or cold air from the Arctic to the Great Lakes.

Illinois State climatologist Trent Ford said he did not disagree with Wang’s assessment that patterns of climate variability play a major role in the low ice cover. But he stressed that, because of climate change, these natural patterns are operating in a world with warmer core temperatures.

According to NOAA, the average January temperature in the contiguous United States was 35.2 degrees, more than 5 degrees above average and the sixth warmest January on record.

Ford said major climate assessments have found that warmer winters may lead to lower ice cover on the Great Lakes.

A previous study authored by Wang found that Great Lakes ice cover declined by 71% between 1973 and 2010.

Low ice cover causes higher waves and shoreline erosion, including beach loss. Without ice to protect them from winter waves, young fish in coastal waters are less likely to survive, Wang said.

In Lake Michigan, the warmer waters benefit the mussel that is already harming native mussels and fish, clogging water inlets and damaging docks and boats.

And there are more immediate results. Chicago Fishing School founder and guide Johnny Wilkins said he only went ice fishing twice this season in Chicago’s Lake Michigan harbors, as opposed to the usual six to eight times.

“This (year) is definitely a dirt for ice,” Wilkins said. “I’ve had to cancel trips. I’m not going to take people when it’s not safe.”

Maximum Great Lakes ice cover is typically seen from mid-February to early March.

Steve Hernan of Evanston, who swims in Lake Michigan year-round, said he is wearing a short-sleeved wetsuit and shorts this season, as opposed to last year’s full-body suit. It’s easier to move his arms and legs, he said, but he misses the ice formations of a typical winter.

Usually this time of year, he and his friends at Open Water Chicago, an outdoor swimming fitness complex near North Avenue Beach, enjoy climbing Lake Michigan icebergs or swimming on giant ice sheets.

If low ice coverage continues, he said with a laugh, he may have to move to northern Wisconsin.

“There are some things that are deal breakers, right? And this is one of them,” he said. “I should be able to ice climb sometime during the year.”

2023 Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Reference: Great Lakes set record for low ice in February, likely leading to warmer seasons for rest of year (2023, March 3) Retrieved March 5, 2023, from 03-great-lakes-ice-february-warmer.html

This document is subject to copyright. Except for any fair dealing for purposes of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. Content is provided for informational purposes only.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *