Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Winter

Does Lake Superior Freeze? How Ice Forms on the Great Lakes

Imagine standing on the shores of Lake Superior, gazing out at a frozen expanse that stretches as far as the eye can see. The surface, resembling an icy ocean, is adorned with snow and intricate formations. It’s a rare sight to behold, as Lake Superior rarely freezes completely over. But when it does, the beauty is undeniable.

In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating phenomenon of Lake Superior freezing, from its historical occurrences to the factors that influence it. So bundle up and join us on this journey of discovery.

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Why Does Lake Superior Not Freeze?

Lake Superior typically does not freeze over completely due to its massive size. As a freshwater lake, Lake Superior has all the components to freeze over. It is such a big lake that is almost never freezes over complete.

Ice typically forms along the bays around Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnestoa and in Canada. In wintertime when the conditions are right, the Apostle Islands allows visitors to walk out to the ice caves that form. 

When was the Last Time Lake Superior Completely Froze?

When Lake Superior freezes over, it becomes a magnificent sight. The frozen lake, covered in a blanket of snow and ice, showcases the power and beauty of nature.

The last time that Lake Superior ever froze entirely was in 1996, with almost 100% coverage. The most recent almost complete freeze occurred in the winter of 2013-2014

Most years you’ll find ice chunks in the harbor in Duluth during winter.

The extent of ice coverage varies by month, with the most ice in February, March, and April.

I highly recommend visiting it yourself. The intricate ice formations along the rocky coastline add to the magic.

What causes Lake Superior Freeze?

Factors like cold temperatures and calm winds are necessary for the great lakes to freeze completely.

The process of freezing takes time and depends on sustained periods of frigid temperatures and calm winds. It can take a week or more for the lake to freeze, influenced by air temperature and weather conditions.

Along the rocky coastline, intricate ice formations can be found. One of the most amazing is when waves of ice crash upwards. I’ve only seen this once, and it’s stunning.

Despite its size, Lake Superior can resemble an ocean when frozen.

Even when the Lake Superior has frozen, the ice can still be unpredictable and unsafe. Always exercise caution and respect the power of nature.

How much Ice Coverage on Lake Superior is expected

You can expect a partial freeze every year of Lake Superior’s water, with ice forming along the edges and in bays. Sections of the lake almost always freeze, thanks to the external temperatures. 

What does a Frozen Lake Superior Look Like?

Seeing a fully froze Lake Superior happens once every 20 years or so when the conditions are prefect. I still encourage you to check it out even if it’s just partially frozen. 

Here is what you can expect: 

1. Intricate Ice Formations: Along the rocky coastline, you’ll find intricate ice formations that resemble delicate works of art. These formations, shaped by the freezing temperatures and the movement of the water, add a touch of magic to the frozen landscape.

2. Snow and Ice Build-Up: The massive lake becomes covered in a thick layer of snow and ice cover, transforming it into a pristine white canvas. The glistening surface sparkles in the sunlight, creating a mesmerizing sight that is unlike anything else.

3. Unpredictable Nature: Despite its frozen appearance, Lake Superior remains unpredictable and potentially dangerous. The size of the lake, like other Great Lakes, prevents it from freezing completely. It’s important to exercise caution and adhere to safety guidelines when exploring the frozen lake.

Damage Caused to homes along Lake Superior by Freezing Ice on the Great Lakes

Property owners occasionally return to their cabins in the spring only to discover they are dealing with property damage caused by a phenomenon called “ice heaving” or “ice jacking”.

This powerful natural force forms a feature along the shoreline known as an “ice ridge”. The result of the ice flows may include significant damage to retaining walls, docks and boat lifts, and sometimes even to the cabin itself. 

What is the average ice coverage on Lake Superior each year?

The average ice cover is only 23% on Lake Superior. It has to do with the current air temperature.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often does Lake Superior freeze Completely?

Lake Superior rarely freezes completely over, but it happens approximately once every two decades. The most recent almost complete freeze was in 2013-2014, with 90% ice coverage. The last time it was nearly 100% covered was in 1996.

What Factors Contribute to the Freezing of Lake Superior?

Factors that contribute to Lake Superior freezing include the lake’s size, very cold temperatures, calm winds, air and water temperature, and the ice formation process. These factors must align for complete freezing to occur.

How Long Does It Take for Lake Superior to Freeze Completely?

It takes a week or more for Lake Superior to freeze completely, depending on its size. Sustained periods of frigid temperatures and calm winds are needed for the ice to build up and cover the entire lake.

Have the other great lakes have frozen over? 

Of the five great lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron have never frozen over completely but has reached 90% ice coverage three times since 1973.

The shallow Lake Erie has frozen over completely three times since on record. 

And it has came close to freezing more than any of the others.

Lake Ontario has never frozen over zero times, and never even close. The closest it ever came was at 86.2% frozen in 1979. 

Are There Any Safety Concerns When Visiting a Frozen Lake Superior?

Yes, there are safety concerns when visiting a frozen Lake Superior. The ice can be unpredictable and unsafe even when fully frozen.

It’s important to be cautious, follow safety guidelines, and check for local advisories before venturing onto the ice.

Falling through the ice is always a risk, even when ice fishing. 

When is the best time to see a frozen Lake Superior? 

The best time to see ice is mid-February. It is the coldest time and therefore when you’ll likely to see total ice cover. During December, it’s unlikely to see much ice.

You can always track ice cover on the great lakes by visiting the National Weather Service.

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