These NWS GIFs of Lake Michigan ice movement are incredibleContinue reading.
Incredible photos: Ice on the Great Lakes at historic levels
It’s been so bitterly cold for so long in the Upper Midwest that the Great Lakes are almost completely covered with ice. The last time they came this close was in 1994, when 94 percent of the lakes’ surface was frozen.
As of Thursday, ice cover extended across 88 percent, according to the federal government’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.
As we’ve been documenting, the continuing polar vortex has been pushing ice further down the lakes and has been playing havoc with the shipping lanes and commerce the economy surrounding the lakes depends upon.
The movement of ice on Lake Michigan and the other lakes has been dramatic – seen in these GIFs.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s data, Lake Michigan’s ice covering at the end of this week was “only” at 82 percent, much below the worst of the the group:
- Lake Erie, 95.8 percent
- Lake Huron, 95.5 percent
- Lake Superior, 94.6 percent
- Lake Michigan, 82.3 percent
- Lake Ontario, 43.4 percent
There’s even an (apparently) tongue-in-cheek Facebook page inviting people to join a convoy of snowmobiles, cars and other vehicles on a nearly 80-mile trek across Lake Michigan. Never mind that its waters remain partly open and experts warn the ice can be dangerously unstable.
“If it freezes, and you miss this chance, when will it happen again?” the page says. “Feel free to invite more folks!”
For Coast Guard icebreaker teams, it’s all business. They’ve logged four times more hours this season than the average for the same period in recent years, said Kyle Niemi, spokesman for the agency’s Cleveland district headquarters.
The 240-foot-long Mackinaw began its duties Dec. 16 — several weeks earlier than usual — and worked nonstop until Feb. 8, when traffic slowed enough to allow a break.
“As you can imagine, the crew’s tired,” Cmdr. Michael Davanzo said this week during a tour of the ship in its home port of Cheboygan.
A 35-year Coast Guard veteran who has spent 12 years on the lakes, Davanzo said this winter is the toughest he’s experienced because the ice came so soon and is so thick and widespread, and the weather has been constantly bitter.
The Mackinaw, commissioned in 2006 to replace an older vessel with the same name, is designed specifically for duty on the Great Lakes. It’s propelled by two “Azipod” thrusters that can spin 360 degrees and fire jets of water at adjacent ice, weakening it. Sometimes the crew will drive the ship’s bow onto an ice sheet to crack it with sheer weight. Or they’ll go backward, chopping up ice with the propeller blades.
When the going gets tough, there’s the battering-ram option — hurling the reinforced hull directly against walls of ice that can be several feet thick.
And, by the way, stay off the ice. There might be a lot of it, but that doesn’t make it safe.
via the Associated Press and staff reports