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Great Lakes ice coverage lower than normal


Ice coverage for the Great Lakes currently below normal
Ice coverage for the Great Lakes currently below normal

Staff writers

January 11, 2013 — While it's still early in the season, experts say ice coverage over the Great Lakes is below normal for this time of year.

Percentage of ice coverage for the week of January 8 (Photo Courtesy: Environment Canada)
Percentage of ice coverage for the week of January 8 (Photo Courtesy: Environment Canada)

According to the Canadian Ice Services, the season began right on time. Ice typically begins to accumulate on portions of the Great Lakes around the third week of December and this year was no exception. 

The current ice coverage however, is around five percent, which is lower than normal. 

"When looking at the current ice coverage compared to the median, we find that the Great Lakes are below normal for this time of year," says Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. "Seasonal outlooks for the Great Lakes suggested the ice cover would be below normal and it is trending that way. There are some spots where the ice is thick, but on average, we are below normal." 

Vettese adds that certain weather conditions play a crucial role in the formation and stability of the ice. 

"The best way for ice to form on the lakes is the obvious one, cold temperatures. Calm weather is another one." 

She says windy, stormy conditions tend to stir up waters, making them turbulent and harder for the thinner ice to build. 

"A recent example of this was on Lake Simcoe when the windy conditions and warm temperatures helped in breaking up some of the ice."

Wind and stormy conditions can stir up waters causing the ice to break
Wind and stormy conditions can stir up waters causing the ice to break

Sea ice is important in a lot of direct and indirect ways to meteorology and forecasting.

It affects things like temperatures, ocean currents and winds. 

"So in any region that is affected by the influence of a nearby lake, ice can have an impact on your local climate," explains Vettese. "It is very difficult to develop lake effect snow when there is ice on the surface of the lake." 

Officials say it's still very early in the ice season and the peak in overall coverage is usually not until mid- March. 

An extended period of cold, Arctic air can also change conditions very quickly.

With warm temperatures forecast over the next couple of days, officials are warning the public of the unsafe ice conditions.

When venturing on the ice, police advise to never go alone, wear the proper clothing and carry the appropriate equipment such as a life preserver.

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