Lake Superior Freeze/Thaw Time Lapse: Ice Until June?

April 29th, 2014 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

I put together this time lapse video of Lake Superior satellite imagery, from MODIS on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites, which spans Dec. 11, 2013 through yesterday, April 28, 2014. I included only days when the lake was not overcast with clouds.

As the lake cooled from strong arctic air mass outbreaks in December and January, lake effect convective snow bands predominate. Then, as the lake gradually freezes, there are more clear days as the moisture source for the clouds is shut off.

Note how much the ice moves from wind changes, just as it does in the Arctic Ocean. It used to be that people ice fishing would become stranded when the wind shifted and blew the ice floe they were on out onto the lake.

With record-high ice coverage for the end of April, and more cold weather on the way, it is possible that Superior might not be entirely ice-free until June. I used to live on the St. Marys River, which drains out of Lake Superior, and I remember a couple of years in the 1970s when ice was still floating downstream by late Spring.

Some great winter photography of Lake Superior is available at Lake Superior Photo, including ice caves, aurora, and various ice-scapes.

27 Responses to “Lake Superior Freeze/Thaw Time Lapse: Ice Until June?”

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  1. Fonzarelli says:

    St. Mary’s river… Interesting name. Any idea how that name came to be? I heard once that the Mississippi was once called the immaculate conception river.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      some history: “In 1668, the legendary Jesuit missionary and explorer Fr. Jacques Marquette renamed this burgeoning European settlement Sault Ste. Marie, in honor of the Virgin Mary—the first “city” in the Great Lakes region.”

      Sault Sainte Marie translates as “rapids of St. Mary”.

  2. Huge contrasts this year. The nordic countries, and most of the Euopean mainland, have had a astounding temperature positive anomaly. Records have been broken, and forest fires have been seen in normally wet areas in midwinter. Norwegian climatologists have good times in the MSM. Dr. Spencer might have a professional explanation for us.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      persistent winter warmth on one location is almost always associated with unusually cold somewhere else, usually thousands of miles away. It has to do with wave-like atmospheric circulation patterns, which have a preferred size, as part of “baroclinic instability theory”.

      • Fran Manns says:

        I’ve been watching atmospheric Rossby waves (ARW) in the jet streams for the past few years. ARW are kinks and sometimes even loops in the Polar jet streams that carry anomalous temperatures, hot and cold, across latitudes. The Jet streams meander slowly EW which permits situations like the intent rainfall of the Florida pan-handle or Calgary floods or many other floods on the planet lately. It is analogous to having your lawn sprinkler stuck in one position.

        As it appears to coincide with the cessation of warming I’m suggesting there is relative cooling because there is shrinkage of the thermosphere and the atmosphere (cloud bottoms are lower)corresponding to the sunspot cycle. The cooling may be reflected in the jet streams changing from ‘cataract’ mode to ‘meandering’ mode. I think in this case correlation implies causation.

        I am not an atmospheric scientist. I am a geologist. I have seen similar enterolithic (ptygmatic) folds in veins and soft sediment deformation when there is a space problem in the matrix of a maturing rock.

    • Darren says:

      Here’s a link to a map illustrating Dr Spencer’s point.

      Note the warm over Northern Europe and the Cold over the US.

      Also of note, the northern sea ice expanse is one of the lowest on records and the southern is near its historic peak.

      • observant says:

        It’s a seesaw.

        Or a roundabout.

        Or a swing.

        Anyway it doesn’t make net progress.

        Weren’t we supposed to have drowned by now? I remember Hollywood telling us this, in a film called “Waterworld”.

        • dan says:


          The finances of “Waterworld” certainly went underwater.

          I do recall that we were supposed to be SCARED about warming only BECAUSE it was going to melt Antartica and drown us. Since the 6.36 million cubic miles of ice (that’sa big’a ice cube!)on Antarctica is as far away from melting as ever, I am not sure why people are so obssessivly concerned with trivial changes in air temperatures. Hasn’t it just become a pissing contest about “who is allowed to pontificate”?

          • dan says:


          • bernie says:

            “…melt Antarctica…”

            Climate models predict more snowfall than ice melting during the next 50 years.

            But this inconvenient prediction makes AGW folks change the subject hastily.

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        • observant says:

          People do not always understand the sea. Spike Milligan had this reminiscence from World War 2.

          We set out from North Africa to assault Sicily. After a little while the ship stopped. I asked the commanding officer the reason. He said: “We are waiting for the tide.” I said “Oh, good!”. He said “Why good?”. I said “This bit of the Med is tide-less!”

      • ray says:

        Yes, the map shows it very wet in England. Everybody was talking hysterically about it. Then it stopped raining.

  3. Thanks for the ice views, Dr. Spencer.
    Lake Superior beaches surely have no human swimmers.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      some warm summers, with a few days of a light on-shore breezes, the water at the beach can be tolerably warm…if you don’t wade too deep. The biting flies are the biggest menace.

  4. dan says:

    “…inconvenient predictions…”

    Don’t worry. I expect those models have already been put on “the naughty step”.

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  5. Alick says:

    Three days of strong east, northeast winds ground up much of the ice. The ice shelves on the beach here got larger from lake ice being tossed on them from the waves.

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