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Weather forecasting and analysis, space and historic events, climate information

1:10 PM | More on the incredible cold winter weather including the latest on the Great Lakes record ice cover extent and some dazzling winter phenomena

Paul Dorian

ice_cave[Ice caves at "Apostle Islands National Lakeshore" in northern Wisconsin (Lake Superior); photo taken by Brian Peterson, Minneapolis Star Tribune, via Associated Press]

Discussion

The incredible winter cold and the Great Lakes This winter has brought some incredible cold to much of the eastern two-thirds of the nation, but nowhere has it been more persistent than in the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region of the country. As a result, the Great Lakes have now reached a record ice cover extent for this late in the season at 90.5% (as of 3/2). The all-time record for ice cover on the Great Lakes is 95% set back in February 1979 (records date back to 1973). That all-time record is certainly within reach as brutal cold air continues to dominate the scene in the eastern two-thirds of the country which will very likely contribute to additional icing on the Great Lakes. In fact, the average 2-meter temperature this morning at 8AM (ET) across the continental U.S. was 19.9°F which may very well be the coldest reading ever this late in the season (source WeatherBell Analytics using NCEP RTMA 2.5 km analysis data).

Currently, Lake Ontario has the least ice cover of the five lakes at 38.2%, but that is more than three times its normal, and it has increased dramatically in recent days. Ontario has a reputation for never freezing as it quite deep so it retains heat longer than the other four lakes. Also, the Niagara River feeds water into Lake Ontario from Lake Erie, providing agitation which keeps the water's surface from freezing. Here are the latest ice cover percentages for all five lakes: Erie 95.4%, Superior 95.0%, Huron 94.5%, Michigan 90.1% and Ontario at 38.2%.

Dazzling winter weather phenomena One of the positive by-products of this bitter cold winter has been the fact that the extensive ice cover has allowed hikers to visit “ice caves” accessible by foot for the first times in many years. For example, tens of thousands of people in northern Wisconsin have taken advantage of this year’s deep freeze to hike across Lake Superior to visit the caves at the western end of the “Apostle Islands National Lakeshore” (see above). These caves were carved out of sandstone by the waves from Lake Superior, the largest by volume and surface area of all five Great Lakes. In addition, an amazing picture from near Mackinac Island, Michigan shows this "frozen" wave on Lake Huron (below).

Philly's chance at history Locally, the Philadelphia region has a chance to make some history late tonight with respect to the bitter cold Arctic air that is currently gripping the region. The record low for tomorrow’s date at Philly Int’l Airport is 7°F and the all-time low temperature for the month of March is 4°F – both within the realm of possibility. Many suburban locations to the north and west of the city will drop down to near 0 degrees by early tomorrow, but milder air will return by the end of the week with highs rebounding to the 40’s.

frozen_wave_Lake_Huron