As the Arctic like temperatures rage on, the ice levels on all of the Great Lakes continue to hold their own. The ice coverage of the Great Lakes region has reached levels not observed in decades. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Great Lakes were 80.8% iced over on February 27, 2014, down slightly from the high of 88.4% observed on February 18th.
The record ice level was 95% during the winter of 1979. By contrast the winters of 2013 and 2012 saw maximum ice levels of 38.4% and 12.9 percent respectively. The average max level of ice coverage is just over 50% since record keeping began in 1973.
Looking at the Lakes individually, Lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie are virtually 100% ice covered, and have been that way for weeks. The levels of Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario fell to under 40% following the recent warm up. Since then the ice levels of the two lakes have been increasing, but with their deep water and more southern latitude, it's highly unlikely that they will come close to the levels of the other 3 lakes.
The extreme winter and ice levels have created a burden on shipping industries, even with the Coast Guard ice-cutters working overtime. A warm up can't come soon enough for those in the shipping industry, and the majority of people in the Midwest and Northeast for that matter. Ice coverage in the Great Lakes typically peaks during the week of March 5th-12th, according to NOAA.
So what does all of this mean to the open water fisherman of the Great Lakes?
Obviously the Great Lakes are going to be cold during the spring months of 2014. The spring salmon fishing on Lake Michigan will likely rely on slightly warmer pockets of water, even more so than normal seasons. These pockets can be found at river mouths, warm water discharges from power plants, and offshore surface water which warms faster than the surrounding area. Our charter fishing season will begin the week of April 12th, hopefully mother nature will be kind!
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