Great Lakes 80% frozen over, NASA image show

The Great Lakes are the most ice-covered they've been in 20 years, a new NASA image shows. Jeff...

The Great Lakes are the most ice-covered they've been in 20 years, a new NASA image shows. Jeff Schmaltz/NASA

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, Last Updated: 4:30 PM ET

The Great Lakes are the most ice-covered they’ve been in 20 years, a new NASA image shows.

The photo taken Feb. 19 shows the lakes are 80.3% frozen over, but NASA said there was 88% ice coverage just six days earlier on Feb. 13.

This is the first time so much ice has been seen on the Great Lakes since 1994, when ice spanned more than 90% of the lakes. In addition to this year, ice has covered more than 80 percent of the lakes in only five other years since 1973.

“Persistently low temperatures across the Great Lakes region are responsible for the increased areal coverage of the ice,” Nathan Kurtz, a cryospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a release. “Low temperatures are also the dominant mechanism for thickening the ice, while secondary factors like clouds, snow, and wind also play a role.”

Lake Ontario is the least ice covered among the Great Lakes with only 32% covered. It’s usually the last lake among the five to freeze over, because it’s one of the deepest, one of the smallest and is situated further south than most of the others, Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips said.

According to historical data, Phillips said Lake Ontario was fully covered by ice on just two occasions where records were being kept ­-- the winters of 1933-34 and 1892-93.

“Both those years were very cold years, like this year,” Phillips said. “It began early, stayed cold and there was not a lot of melting or thawing going on up to the time the lake usually freezes over which is usually in February.”

Great Lakes freezing over means the lake-effect snowstorms are negated because the lakes become like a land mass, Phillips said.

- with files from Ian MacAlpine


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