The winter of 2022-2023 has been extraordinary with record warm temperatures in the eastern United States.
In Youngstown, this winter ranks as the third warmest of all time with an average temperature of 34.5°F which is 5.4 degrees above normal. Meteorological winter only lasts through the end of February, so this winter will likely go down as one of the warmest on record.
Obviously, these warm temperatures have led to less ice coverage on the Great Lakes, but how does the 2022-2023 season compare to other years?
Currently, the total ice coverage on all of the Great Lakes combined is close to the lowest ever recorded.
Now, it is important to keep in mind that records have only been kept since 1973, but this is still significant.
The graph above shows that the Great Lakes ice coverage is about 30% below average for this time of year. In fact, the ice coverage has been below average for much of the year, apart from the end of December during the Christmas arctic air outbreak.
The graph also shows that the 2022-2023 season is tracking along with years that featured the least amount of ice coverage on record.
What about Lake Erie?
The lake closest to the Valley is Lake Erie. What is the ice coverage on Lake Erie currently and how does that compare to previous years?
This map is very revealing. I already spoke that about how the ice coverage is near a record low on the Great Lakes, but it is striking to see that nearly all of Lake Erie is ice free. In fact, only around .1% of Lake Erie has ice. You can see one of the only areas of ice near the Canadian border.
The average ice coverage on Lake Erie is down nearly 70% from its average. The maximum coverage of ice on Lake Erie was in early February when nearly 40% of the lake was frozen, but this was still below average of 60%.
You will notice that an ice free Lake Erie is not uncommon this time of year and that this has occurred during other years. Lake Erie is the most likely of the Great Lakes to have significant changes in ice coverage due to how shallow the lake is and its southern location.
Therefore, it is likely that the near record low in total Great Lakes ice coverage is caused by anomalously low ice coverage on the other four lakes.
Ice coverage on the other Great Lakes
How does the ice coverage on the other Great Lakes stack up to years past?
Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and it is the furthest north. Therefore, Lake Superior is often subjected to the coldest temperatures relative to its counterparts. Despite the winter season, the lake has only 10% of its surface covered by ice due to the unusually mild weather. This value is tracking along with some of the most ice-free winters of all time.
Currently, the average ice cover at Lake Michigan is in the top-5 lowest of all time. The ice coverage approached average in early February thanks to a cold air outbreak, but the record high temperatures during the rest of the month has resulted in melting.
The Lake Huron ice coverage map currently shows that there has only been one other year where the ice coverage was lower than it is now. Huron averages around 50% ice coverage in late February and the current coverage is less than 20%.
The ice coverage on Lake Ontario was actually above average for a short time in early February but it quickly dropped off as many locations in the eastern U.S. are experiencing their warmest Februaries on record. There is currently minimal ice coverage over Lake Ontario and that will continue to drop this week as record warmth continues.