Great Lakes’ ice concentration on par with last year

A satellite image of Michigan and the Great Lakes from Thursday. As of Wednesday, 85.4 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice and will continue to increase. (Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory | Courtesy Photo)

A satellite image of Michigan and the Great Lakes from Thursday. As of Wednesday, 85.4 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice and will continue to increase. (Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory | Courtesy Photo)

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

It’s as if Queen Elsa from the movie “Frozen” touched the Great Lakes.

“The official ice concentration is on par with where we were at last year,” said Anne Clites, physical scientist for the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. “However, the situation has changed quite a bit this past week. If you were looking at the current ice two weeks ago it was significant, but not nearly what we have today.”

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is reporting that 85.4 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice and coverage will continue to increase if current weather conditions persist.

The maximum basin coverage for the Great Lakes last year was 92.5 percent in March, while the highest amount recorded was 94.4 percent in 1979.

As of Wednesday, 92.8 percent of Lake Huron was in ice, compared to 94.5 percent last year. The record ice coverage for Lake Huron was 98.3 percent in 1994.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Cook warned not to look out for Queen Elsa’s sister Anna.

Michigan is stuck in the middle of the coldest air mass of 2015, he said, and it’s not going away.

“The computer models have us in a cold pattern through the next 10 days,” Cook said. “We should remain in the cold side of the jet stream for at least the next two weeks.”

Relentless below-zero temperatures will only thicken the ice, Cook said. He did promise a mid-March warmup, though.

Friday’s frigid temperatures will be driven by 10- to 20-mph gusts, Cook said, which could temporarily break up some of the ice.

“High winds help to break up the ice covering,” he said. “The wind has been helping keep the open water a little warmer. Plus, the more that Lake Huron is frozen, the less lake effect snow you’ll see.”

The heavy ice has slowed freighter traffic and kept Coast Guard ships busy.

Rob Zamora, chief warrant officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit, said it has been harder on the icebreakers to clear boat traffic.

“It pushes our icebreakers to their maximum capabilities,” Zamora said. “The north winds that create northern ridges have been difficult to deal with.”

While the St. Clair River is iced over, Zamora said he cannot determine the thickness of the ice or whether it is safe to walk on.

“With the current conditions it is possible (to walk the St. Clair River), but we don’t recommend it,” Zamora said.

Frank Frisk, of Boatnerd.com, said heavy ice on the St. Clair River is not unusual, but it started earlier this season.

“I’ve seen it this bad in late February,” he said. “It’s just the cold weather. This is the heaviest ice they have seen in years.”

He said the lake freighter Peter Creswell was stuck in the ice near Harsens Island.

“She’s in the lower end of the St. Clair River not moving,” he said. “She’s hardly moved at all in two days.”

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Samuel Risley was trying to assist the freighter.

Donna Krispin, a volunteer at the Readers Cove on Harsens Island, said she’s seen plenty of ice in the St. Clair River before.

She noted there was lots of ice last year, but it caused few problems.

“Last year we didn’t have any trouble with the ice in the spring,” she said. “You just can’t second guess.”

Champion’s Auto Ferry was still running between the mainland and the island, she said.

“The ferry’s running,” she said. “The only trouble we had was when the Coast Guard decided to come down and cut our path.”

The Blue Water Ferry between Marine City and Sombra, Ontario is not running because of the ice in the St. Clair River.

Mick Broughton, of Kimball Township, is the local representative for Okuma fishing rods and reels. He had stopped at Anderson’s Pro Bait in Port Huron.

“I’m not a big ice fisherman, so I don’t like it,” he said. “Four or five years ago this time of the year I was fishing open water in Lake Erie. We’re going to surpass last year’s ice record, that’s for sure.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 19, 2015)

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