Great Lakes Ice Coverage slipping away

from (Petoskey is a town on the north east shore of Lake Michigan)

Posted: Monday, March 16, 2015 1:19 pm

Mark Johnson (989)

NORTHERN MICHIGAN — It appears spring is finally here and with the end to another brutal winter comes the end of another year of extensive Great Lakes ice coverage.

According to George Leshkevich, physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, total Great Lakes ice coverage peaked Feb. 28 at approximately 88.7 percent combined among the five lakes.

Though some of the lakes — Erie, Huron and Superior — approached almost complete ice cover, the total of 88.7 percent fell short of the ice coverage mark set last year on March 6, and approximately 6 percent short of the record set in 1979 at 94.7 percent.

“The way things are going now, we are looking at an earlier breakup and an earlier ice-off date (compared to 2014),” Leshkevich said. “Last year was extreme.”

According to statistics compiled by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, out of all of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie reached the highest ice coverage percent at 98.09 percent on Feb. 18.

Lake Ontario also experienced its peak ice coverage Feb. 18, when 82.6 percent of the lake was covered in ice.

Coming in at No. 2 for highest total ice coverage was Lake Huron, recording an ice coverage of 96.28 percent on March 6.

Lakes Superior and Michigan both reached their maximum ice coverage Feb. 28, with Lake Michigan recording 72.8 percent ice coverage and Lake Superior 95.5 percent.

Since reaching those numbers, warmer temperatures and larger amounts of sunlight among other factors have began to break up the large quantities of ice.

“It is going down now,” Leshkevich said in regard to the melting ice. “Even if we get another cold snap, it would have to be really cold for really long to turn things around.”

Leshkevich said the ice coverage patterns this year are about normal, as the lower Great Lakes — Erie and Ontario — typically reach maximum ice coverage between the middle and end of February, while the upper Great Lakes — Michigan, Superior and Huron — usually reach peak ice coverage sometime during the first half of March.

Unless there is another cold spell, the ice cover should continue to melt as spring approaches, unlike 2014 when Leshkevich said some amount of ice cover remained on Lake Superior until June 6.

But with the unpredictable Michigan weather patterns, Leshkevich said anything is possible.

“Things could still turn around,” he said. “Cold weather could prolong (the ice cover).”

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  1. It’s good to see the tug, Erika.kobasic, out from Escanaba. I’m guessing they now have the job of keeping the approaches clear. Joseph L Block is loaded and heading south. If they speed up as they get clear of the ice in northern Lake Michigan, they could arrive in port perhaps by 9pm (otherwise maybe midnight). This will be the very first iron ore delivery of the season. I see that Dorothy Ann has carried a load of iron ore up the Cuyahoga River to the mill and is back down for another load. I wonder if Dorothy is faster or cheaper than using train cars. A definite sign that the ice is thinner this year is that the private tug, Bill Maier, has been breaking ice just downstream of the Soo locks this morning.

    It is good to see all of the Coast Guard out now. Mackinaw is currently at the dock at Saulte St. Marie where they’ve been breaking ice in the St Marys. We know that their next job will be passing through the locks and breaking out the upper St Marys and Whitefish Bay out to Lake Superior.

    By the look of the satellite images, there will be tough ice across Whitefish and probably out to 20 miles west of the entrance where the wind has packed it up against the eastern shore. Once past that, it looks like the ice will get much easier. I wonder what the current plan is. To me, the satellite map from the 18th looks good for a southern route passing by Marquette. Unless the wind starts blowing hard out of the north and closes up the open water, I would think that would be the way to go.

    Katmai Bay and Mobile Bay are working the St Marys River. I’m guessing one or both of these will move up to help Mackinaw when they pass through the locks. There are only five days left before the locks open and it will probably take two full days to break a track out to Lake Superior. They could either try to escort ships west right away or they could steam to Duluth first like last year and escort on the return, I suppose.

    Alder is back in port at Duluth after breaking out Thunder Bay. I would imagine that Alder could make it to Marquette now without any assistance. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Marquette was eager for a load of coal. So, I suppose if I were trying for an optimal start, I might have Alder take one or two ships east to Marquette and meet up with the breaking fleet coming out of Whitefish. This would allow the ships with Alder to continue on through the locks and allow a larger fleet to be escorted through the thinner ice to the western side of Lake Superior. If Katmai or Mobile joined Alder, that would probably be enough of an escort westward. Mackinaw and the other Bay could probably stay in the Whitefish area and deal with the heavy ice. Perhaps we’ll get a better idea when the giants start waking up in a few days. I see some activity with Edwin H Gott at Milwaukee so it is possible that they are leaving port today.

    Biscayne Bay is working the Straits. Bristol Bay, Hollyhock, and Griffon are working the Detroit/St Clair area. Samuel Risley is escorting Algoma Hansa east across Lake Erie. Neah Bay is also heading east. I can’t tell if they are going to assist Risley or maybe they are going to break out the harbor at Erie. Morro Bay is currently down. Recall that they just got back from escorting Dorothy into port from Erie.

    By the satellite maps, it looks like there is only heavy ice in western Erie, northeastern Michigan, and the Whitefish Bay area. However, with St Lawrence Seaway and Welland Canal opening just two days after the Soo, things are going to get busy quickly. The Algoma ships have been moving all winter and there are a few tugboats that have come out of port. Other than those and maybe Gott, Joe Block is the only big ship that is moving right now. However, in another week, there will be a lot more ships on the move.

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