Lake Superior Ice Cover at 70%
Posted on: February 15, 2019
Almost all recent NOAA satellite photo are obscured by cloud but this February 11th, 2019 photo clearly shows the solid ice (in white) at the top of Lake Superior in Thunder Bay, Black Bay, Nipigon Bay and between the Slate Islands and Terrace Bay, Ontario.

Data in this article is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s  Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

It’s a Big Lake – Perspective Depends on Location

Many of the 1500 or so subscribers to Infosuperior live directly on Lake Superior’s shore or have a view of the lake from where they live or work. We also know from correspondence with readers that many visit the lake almost daily to walk, snowshoe, ski, run or photograph. 

Infosuperior readers hail from around the entire lake, observing ice and lake conditions from Michigan, Ontario, Wisconsin and Minnesota shores. Depending upon location, perspective is unique. If you’ve been regularly looking out at Lake Superior and have seen nothing but endless, snow covered ice, you may be thinking that the entire lake is ice covered. Conversely, if you are seeing open water you may think the lake has yet to freeze over, but this is not the case across the entire lake. Even while partially obscured, the above February 11th satellite photo shows that part of the lake is completely ice covered, part is less than solid ice and part is open water.

Approximately 70% of Lake Superior was covered by ice on February 13th, 2019.

Mid-February Superior Ice Cover at 70%

At time of writing (February 13th, 2019), ice cover on Lake Superior stood at about 70%. Last year on the same date ice coverage was similar, at about 69%. In 2017, however, Lake Superior ice cover stood at only 6% in mid-February.

As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite photo accompanying this article shows, the Ontario bays in north-central Lake Superior are completely ice covered. This includes Thunder Bay, Black Bay, Nipigon Bay, Jackfish Bay, Port Caldwell, Peninsula Harbour at Marathon, and even out to the Slate Islands off Terrace Bay, north of Pic Island in the Neys Provincial Park area. Conditions across the rest of the lake are not nearly so uniform. Although all recent satellite photos are heavily obscured by cloud, it is still possible to see that a great deal of open water and less than solid ice is present in the February 11th satellite photo.

USCG Mackinaw breaks ice north of Thunder Cape. March 29, 2014. Maximum Lake Superior ice cover in 2014 was near 96%. Credit: NOAA

Several Recent High Ice Cover Years

The most recent winter in which NOAA lists ice cover as 100% is 1996, although ice cover in other winters over the last 10 years has also been quite high, as laid out below:

  • 2015 – 95.7%
  • 2014 – 95.8%
  • 2009 – 93.7%

Ten Year Averages Highlight Ice Cover Trend Over Time

Ten year Lake Superior annual maximum ice cover averages, beginning in 1973, are laid out below:

  • 1973–1982 – 77.2%
  • 1983–1992 – 68.61%
  • 1993–2002 – 49.9%
  • 2003–2012 – 50.1%



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