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Lake Superior ice formation lags well behind normal

Jan 22, 2020 06:16AM ● By Editor
Sheltered bays on the shoreline between Thunder Bay and the north shore have the most extensive ice.  Image: Google Maps/NOAA/G.Lakes Env.Research Lab

By Gary Rinne of Thunder Bay Newswatch - January 21, 2020

Barely six per cent of Lake Superior is currently covered by ice, far below the historic average.  

On Jan. 21, the normal ice coverage is 19 per cent.

Last year on this date, 18 per cent of Superior had ice.

A scientist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. estimates that by March, only 54 per cent of Superior will be iced over, compared with the historic average of 64 per cent.

Ice climatologist Jia Wang told his prediction is based mainly on present long-range temperature forecasts for the region.  

Satellite imagery on Tuesday showed a band of ice along the shoreline from Grand Marais, Minn., through Thunder Bay, Black Bay and Nipigon Bay to just east of Terrace Bay.  

Pockets of ice have also formed along several stretches of the southern shore between Duluth and Sault Ste. Marie.  

Jacob Bruxer, a Canadian representative on the International Lake Superior Board of Control, is cautious about the reliability of longer-term outlooks for ice cover.

He conceded Tuesday, however, that "It's a wierd start to the winter. We've had much milder temperatures than normal."

Bruxer, whose job includes monitoring Superior's recent high water levels, said less ice coverage might help by allowing for more evaporation, but added it's difficult to say how much of an impact it will have this spring.

He noted that the biggest drivers of rising water levels tend to be precipitation and runoff.

"Evaporation is certainly an important component but there's so much variability in other components like precipitation and the rate of the spring snow melt. They all play a role but there's more than one factor," Bruxer said.

Last winter, Lake Superior reached a maximum ice cover of 95 per cent in March, something that also happened in 2014 and 2015. 

The last year it froze completely was 1996.

To read the original article and see related regional reporting, follow this link to the Thunder Bay Newswatch website.

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