As temperatures rise, Great Lakes ice less.

The Great Lakes, notorious for ice fishing and winter waves, welcomed the New Year stripped. 

Satellite-measured Great Lakes ice concentrations showed less than 0.4% on New Year's Day, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. 

“It’s basically nothing,” said James Kessler, a physical scientist at the NOAA laboratory. About 50 years of data. Today, Jan. 1, averages 9%.”  Kessler added that while ice coverage is low, it's not uncommon to see ice concentrations below 1% on Jan. 1, early in the season. 

Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario ice levels govern when and how Midwest ports may transit raw materials and merchandise. Ice protects whitefish eggs for reproduction. Lower ice levels may exacerbate erosion and change weather patterns. 

This season's exceptionally mild air temperatures have prevented lake ice formation, Kessler added. His research suggests Great Lakes yearly ice coverage is very varied but decreasing by 5% each decade.  He remarked, “That’s certainly an indication of climate change.”

Ice usually peaks in mid-February to early March. The Great Lakes have 40% ice at peak in an ordinary year.  By mid-February, only 7% of lakes were iced, down from 23% last year. 

Human-caused climate change made 2023 the hottest year on record. El Niño, a natural climatic trend that releases ocean heat, is predicted to increase temperatures this year. El Niño winters are typically warmer in the Great Lakes area. 

This year's Great Lakes prediction predicts above-average temperatures and below-average ice.  Weather analysts foresee little change this week.