Great Lakes see historic levels of ice coverage

CREATED Mar 5, 2014

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MILWAUKEE - In a typical February, Lake Michigan is about 32% covered with ice but because of our cold temperatures this year, Lake Michigan was about 77% covered with ice.  

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) says that the Great Lakes as a whole are 91% covered with ice, the second highest only after 1979.

"I really want it to be warm and I guess the big ice cubes will keep the lake cold," Connor McGinnis tells TODAY'S TMJ4's Jesse Ritka.  Lake temperatures will be colder going into the spring as the increase in ice will also increase the time it takes to melt, keeping locations right along Lake Michigan colder this spring.  Leaving many groaning along with Connor when faced with a potentially chilly spring after living through the 10th coldest winter on record in Milwaukee.
 
Looking back 35 years to the 7th coldest winter, the Great Lakes were nearly 95% frozen over. Crews used explosives in 1979 to break up the ice on the Milwaukee River and travel on rivers and lakes this spring is expected to be difficult.
 
But temperatures in the spring months are not completely at the ice's mercy, they are more dependent on the weather pattern.  In 2013, there wasn't much ice on Lake Michigan but spring was still more than two degrees colder than the average season.  When the Great Lakes were covered the most with ice in 1979, the spring and summer seasons were both only about one degree colder than average.  Leaving Connor and others thinking positive, "Hopefully it'll come faster and the spring will be shorter."
 
But the Climate Prediction Center is expecting this spring to be colder than normal in Wisconsin and it's not just because of the extra ice.
 
The extra ice is what officials at GLERL are concerned about, they warn that this winter may cause problems this spring since The Great Lakes Basin has received record amounts of snow in some spots that will add an extra four to eight inches of water just by melting.
 
"There is a quite high threat of flooding as the snow begins to melt as we move into the spring," Chief Watershed Hydrologist, Keith Kompoltowicz, at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District Office comments.
 
There is some good news: after hitting a record low lake level in 2012, the added water and ice from this winter is going to increase water levels.  The GLERL is forecasting a slightly above seasonal increase of nine to fourteen inches to Lake Michigan water levels by August.  Though that still leaves levels between nine and twelve inches below the 40 year average.