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This winter marked the lowest ice cover on the Great Lakes in 50 years, experts report

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This winter marked the lowest ice cover on the Great Lakes in 50 years, experts report

May 20, 2024 | 1:38 pm ET
By Kyle Davidson
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This winter marked the lowest ice cover on the Great Lakes in 50 years, experts report
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Lake Michigan in Chicago, March 1, 2024 | Susan J. Demas

After an uncharacteristically warm winter put the kibosh on skiing in some areas, as well as outdoor traditions like sturgeon fishing in Black Lake, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed this year marked a record low in ice coverage on the Great Lakes. 

In a post to its blog, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory said this year’s average ice coverage across all of the lakes came out to 4.3%, the lowest recorded average since records began in 1973. 

Maximum ice coverage on the Great Lakes for this winter was recorded on Jan. 16 at 16%, the fourth lowest annual maximum recorded. The lowest annual maximum was recorded in 2002, at 11.9%

This winter marked the lowest ice cover on the Great Lakes in 50 years, experts report
Annual Great Lakes Ice Coverage Maximums. | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

NOAA also reported record low seasonal ice coverage in Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, with Lake Huron also recording its lowest annual maximum ice coverage. 

Average ice cover on Lake Superior for this winter was 2.6%. On Lake Michigan, it was 4.4%. Lake Huron recorded an average of 7.8% ice cover, as well as an annual maximum of 22.7% coverage.

In a previous interview with the Advance, Ayumi Fujisaki-Manome, an associate researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, explained that this year’s record-lows in ice coverage were the result of long-term warming trends alongside anomalous weather conditions. 

With El Niño conditions contributing to a warmer and wetter winter than normal, coupled with a warm December, and above average air and water temperatures throughout the winter, the conditions needed for ice did not develop, Fujisaki-Manome said.