(CNSNews.com) – Lake Superior hasn’t completely frozen over in two decades.
But an expert on Great Lakes ice says there’s a “very high likelihood” that the three-quadrillion-gallon lake will soon be totally covered with ice thanks to this winter’s record-breaking cold.
The ice cover on the largest freshwater lake in the world hit a 20-year record of 91 percent on Feb. 5, 1994.
Jay Austin, associate professor at the Large Lakes Observatory in Duluth, Minn., told CNSNews.com that he expects that record will be broken this winter when the most northern of the Great Lakes becomes totally shrouded in ice.
The thickness of the ice on Lake Superior “varies tremendously,” from a very thin sheet in some areas near the coast to several feet thick in other spots, Austin says. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the mean thickness of the lake ice is 26 cm, or a little over 10 inches.
Austin attributes the large amount of ice on the lake to the “extraordinary cold winter we’ve had,” pointing out that Duluth recently experienced an all-time record of 23 straight days of below-zero temperatures.
The previous record of 22 days was set in 1936 and tied in 1963, according to the National Weather Service.
Austin, who studies the effect of lake ice, predicts that it will have a “very strong influence” on the regional climate this summer, with the “air conditioning [lake] effect” more pronounced than usual.
“Typically, the lake will start warming up in late June, but it will be August before we see that this year,” Austin told CNSNews.com.
As of February 10th, ice covered 80.4 percent of all the Great Lakes, compared to 38.4 percent last winter, according to NOAA. That’s considerably higher than the lake’s long-term average of 51.4 percent under ice.
The record for maximum ice coverage of 94.7 percent was set in 1979. The lowest ice accumulation occurred in 2002, when just 9.5 percent of the surface of the Great Lakes was frozen solid.