Ice concentration on Lake Erie and its impacts on lake effect snow

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) —We all know the crucial role that ice plays in keeping the lake effect snow machine going. This year we have seen lots of changes in ice coverage, and it’s only the end of January.

It’s not just the air that’s feeling ice cold around Buffalo. Lake Erie is has seen some rapidly changing conditions since the start of the cold season.  Ice fluctuates constantly on all of the Great Lakes throughout the entire winter season so that part is not all that uncommon, however the amount of ice we’ve seen so early is.

Winter enthusiasts are happy. People who hate the snow and cold are upset. Lake Erie’s ice coverage is always changing. Meteorologist Mike Cejka said, “When ice starts to form on the lake obviously it starts to limit the amount of lake effect. But in all my years of covering lake effect here, it never really totally shuts down.”

That means that even when the lake is almost totally covered with ice, you can still get a bit of lake effect. The amounts typically just lessen. Cejka said, “The Lake is always changing water currents, and wind flow over the lake. So the ice is always shifting and sometimes we get these cracks, these major cracks, that develop on the ice and sometimes you can even get some limited lake effect out of some of those cracks.”

Earlier this season, we saw a situation like that happen. That’s because temperatures during both the months of December and January averaged out to be below normal. That bitter cold allowed for an early freeze on the lake. Cejka said, “On average the lake usually freezes during January. Sometimes it’s earlier, it all is based on how cold it is upfront in the winter season sometimes its later January. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until early February.”

This year it looks like that early February freeze is possible since right now, ice coverage is only up to about 70 percent. Cejka said, “Going forward, there are some indications that we are getting into a wintrier pattern again in the month of February. So any ice that’s broken up and is kind of melted away in the water again will start to refreeze in the month of February.”

This can take as short of time as a few days depending on the severity of the cold. Typically when we see any temperature reading 10-20 degrees below normal that freezing process will happen very rapidly.

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