Great Lakes ice: U-M experts available to discuss
With weather forecasts calling for a significant warmup in the region, the Great Lakes could potentially face an unusually early peak to an abysmally low winter ice season. University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the topic.
Ayumi Fujisaki-Manome is an associate research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, a collaboration with NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. She is also an adjunct associate research scientist in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at College of Engineering. Her areas of expertise include sea/lake ice and lake-effect snow, polar physical oceanography and numerical geophysical modeling.
“I think it is a little premature to say that the peak has already happened this year, given that Great Lakes ice cover typically peaks some time from late February to early March,” she said. “If we have another cold spell hitting the area, that would add a bump to ice formation.
“However, predominant atmospheric circulations indicate that warmer conditions will likely continue. For example, we are currently in the El Niño condition, which is typically connected to warmer and wetter winters over the region. The North Atlantic Oscillation, another well-known teleconnection pattern, is in the positive phase as of January 2024. This also indicates a warmer-than-normal condition over the region.
“As of Jan. 30, 2024, Great Lakes-wide ice coverage (6.9%) is close to some of the lowest years on record for the same date, including 2002 (5%), 2006 (5.6%) and 2012 (7%). We are also slightly below last year’s 8.8% on Jan. 30. From 1973 through 2023, average ice coverage on Jan. 30 was 29%.
“Little ice on the Great Lakes has implications for coastal environments. For example, the shoreline loses protection from high waves and storm surges, lake-effect snowfall could be enhanced because of extra moisture and heat released from the open waters, and winter recreational activities that rely on ice—such as ice fishing—will not be available.”
Richard Rood is professor emeritus of climate and space sciences and engineering at the College of Engineering and professor emeritus at the School for Environment and Sustainability. He is an expert on U.S. weather modeling and can discuss the connection between weather, climate and society. He is also a co-principal investigator at the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments, a federally funded partnership between U-M and Michigan State University.
“The Great Lakes do not freeze as early or as completely as in the past. And as the world continues to warm, I expect that the seasonality, thickness and duration of Great Lakes ice will continue to change,” he said. “In the future, I expect it to be more episodic, involving flash-freezing events associated with cold air outbreaks.”