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They're Melting! Great Lakes Come Close, But Miss Ice Record

The mostly frozen Great Lakes on Feb. 16. Not sure which lake is which? <a href="http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3313_3677-15926--,00.html">Click here</a>.
NOAA Great Lakes CoastWatch
The mostly frozen Great Lakes on Feb. 16. Not sure which lake is which? Click here.

Another cold snap could change things, of course, but it appears that after a long winter the Great Lakes have come close to — but won't break — their recorded record for ice cover.

The latest data from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory show the lakes are about 84 percent ice-covered, down from a peak this season of just over 92 percent and well short of the 95 percent high mark sent in 1979.

In an email, NOAA/GLERL scientist George Leshkevich tells us that satellite imagery also indicates "that ice cover is starting to break up on the Great Lakes."

Lake Michigan, though, can lay claim to a new record, at least in terms of what's in the data from recent decades. Its ice cover peaked at 93.3 percent on Saturday. Leshkevich says the lake's previous record, 93.1 percent, was set in 1977. The researchers at NOAA/GLERL began collecting the data in 1973.

By the way, Lake Michigan's ice caves haven't been safe to visit for a few weeks. As the Detroit Free Press has reported, "milder temperatures and high winds have broken up the ice sheet on the lake side of the formations, and open water is visible near the caves."

As of Monday, though, the Green Bay Press Gazette was writing that Lake Superior's ice caves were still attracting tourists.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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