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Thick Lake Michigan Ice Now Means Cooler Summer Waters Later

By JoshMogerman in News on Feb 2, 2014 9:30PM

Since winter is stuck on repeat and another polar vortex is invariably barreling this way, it would be easy to curse the brutal winter we are suffering through. But all that cold brings something very helpful: Ice.

Which seems painfully obvious, and not particularly helpful at the moment.

Furthermore, Lake Michigan looks like tundra after an unheard of 43 percent of the lake has frozen over at the earliest point in recent memory. And it is even worse further north.

This week at least six ships were trapped in the ice near Detroit. And an ice breaking Coast Guard cutter nailed a freighter after misjudging thickness of frozen cover in the waters near the Port of Indiana (which, judging from the video below, isn’t really all that surprising).

But, believe it or not, that ice has benefits.

Does “cooler by the Lake” ring a bell? This summer, when we are suffering through the opposite meteological mess and temperatures soar in the Midwest, Chicagoans will be appreciative of the moderating influence of Lake Michigan. Heavy ice now means a slower warmup of the lake. Cooler waters in the summer means the edge will be taken off of what could otherwise be brutal summer heat.

Ice has a surprisingly widespread impact on the Great Lakes region. The utter lack of ice cover in recent years has meant winter’s winds whipping over the Lakes’ surface, bringing increased evaporation.

Those winds contributed to water levels so historically low in Lake Michigan that they actually threatened to re-reverse the Chicago River, since water flows downhill. That same wind and lack of protective ice scoured area beaches and iconic sand dunes, threatening integrity of the namesakes in places like Sleeping Bear Dunes (noted by “Good Morning America” as the nation’s most beautiful spot).

Further north in Michigan (actually, as far as you can go), the ice may offer salvation to the fabled wolf packs of Isle Royale, where the population has become so shrunken and inbred that its only hope is an influx of new blood from Canadian lobos crossing an ice bridge to the moose-rich island.

Since there seems to be Groundhog consensus that we are stuck with six more weeks of winter, at least we can take solace that something good is coming out of this frozen mess.