FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) — Temperatures have been warmer this winter season and that has had a direct impact on the amount of ice across the Great Lakes.
We are halfway through January and there is still very little ice cover.
Typically this is the time of the year when the Great Lakes rapidly gains ice cover.
But, according to NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, as of January 20, 2021 the total ice cover across the lakes is only at 3.9%.
By this time, the total ice coverage should be at about 19%.
Last year at this time, the ice cover was behind with 11.3% ice cover.
Ice has only formed in shallow spots such as parts of Saginaw Bay, Green Bay, northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The ice thickness is only a few inches in most spots except for northern parts of Lake Superior where ice thickness is between one to two feet.
Of course, the ice coverage is directly linked to temperatures.
So far this season, there have been few cold spells and nothing lasting longer than a few days.
On top of that, warmer weather has resulted in a snowfall deficit in the region.
In areas that typically see lake effect snow, it has been nearly non-existent.
We all know mild weather has dominated Upper Michigan since early November. Snowfall has also been well below normal. With the mild conditions, not all of the robins have decided to head south for the winter. #906wx pic.twitter.com/sQQ5vAZIB4
— NWS Marquette (@NWSMarquette) January 19, 2021
Locally we’ve had a few rounds of lake effect snow this season but it hasn’t amounted to much.
Lake effect snow happens when cold air, usually from Canada, blows over a warm body of water.
The air rises and clouds form, which then produces narrow bands of snow.
Lake effect snow expected downwind of the Great Lakes. It occurs when cold air moves across warmer water and can produce 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour or more. Learn more weather science at https://t.co/hF1EHHwbTv #WeatherScience pic.twitter.com/JML7Ez7gvh
— National Weather Service (@NWS) January 21, 2021
Places known for lake effect snow such as Buffalo, New York is at a seasonal snowfall deficit of 15 inches.
Marquette, Michigan is at a deficit of 32” and Grand Rapids, Michigan is at a deficit of nearly 34”.
So, why does anyone care about the amount of ice on the lakes and the lack of lake effect snow.
Snowfall helps with drought conditions and if we start spring with a large deficit, it could hurt the agricultural industry.
Trees and other plants count on snow cover for nourishment during the harsh winter months.
If trees don’t get the nourishment that is needed, they will become weak and that could lead to more downed trees during the severe weather season.
Beach erosion is expected this afternoon into tonight from Holland northward. Southwest winds gusting as high as 45 mph will generate waves as tall as 12 feet. STAY OFF PIERS! #miwx #wmiwx pic.twitter.com/hcRLshHjKO
— NWS Grand Rapids (@NWSGrandRapids) January 20, 2021
Water levels on the Great Lakes are well above average leading to beach erosion.
With less ice, the potential for a strong system with gusty winds could cause damage to the shorelines of the lakes.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, the long range temperature outlook for late January into early February shows above-average temperatures for the Great Lakes.