Expect snow, not ice on the Great Lakes this winter

Dec 13, 2017

Michigan City East Pierhead Light
Credit Brian Forist / Old Lighthouse Museum/Michigan City Historical Society, Inc.

Over the past two winters, the Great Lakes have had a below-average ice cover. And that’s expected to continue this year.

One of ice climatologist Jia Wang’s biggest jobs is the annual ice cover prediction for the Great Lakes.  He’s with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Michigan, which tracks ice cover throughout the winter.

The Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse covered in ice
Credit Amy Nichole Harris / Shutterstock
This year, he expects the five lakes to have a 44% ice cover. That’s down from the historical average of 55%.

And Wang says that means a warmer, La Nina winter, with more lake effect snow. Cold winds can pick up

moisture as they pass over the open water, dumping snow when they hit land.

He says Lakes Erie and Superior are projected to get the most ice cover this year – 82 and 54 percent, respectively. 

But Wang cautions that his recent predictions have had mixed results.

In 2016, his prediction was pretty close.  But last winter he missed badly.  NOAA predicted a 55 percent ice cover for the Great Lakes – the reality was more like 20 percent.

Keep up with NOAA’s ice cover tracking here.