Of the five Great Lakes, I live the closest to Lake Erie. It’s less than an hours drive to some lakeside locations and I feel comfort just knowing that it’s there for me when I need it.
Coming back from Bazaar Bizarre last weekend, we drove passed Edgewater Park (a hangout for lake lovers, kite flyers, sun bathers, and fishermen. One of the passengers mentioned that it would be fun to come back and see the lake when it’s frozen over. Being a Michi-smart Michigirl, I just assumed she meant that some part of the lake area would have ice on it. The next day someone else mentioned that people have driven their cars across Lake Erie. Now I had some investigating to do. The Great Lakes are vast in size and I’d never heard that they completely froze over, not even our up north friend, Lake Superior. I’d also visited Lake Michigan in mid-winter and the waves were going strong.
So, I googled it, and here’s what I found.
The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory says the lakes do freeze, but not completely. Ice cover on the Great Lakes varies from lake to lake and year to year. For example, in a year with normal temperatures, 25 percent of Lake Ontario will be frozen over, while up to 90 percent of Lake Erie will be frozen. However, wind and water movement over bodies of water as large and deep as the Great Lakes make it unlikely the lakes have ever frozen over completely for any significant length of time. During the late 70s, really cold winter temperatures brought the lakes to 90 percent frozen.
Lake Superior generally freezes over once every 20 years. However there was little free water remaining in 2003 and 2009. Lake Michigan hasn’t frozen over since 1979. Lake Ontario, furthest to the east almost never freezes over.
As for Lake Erie, it’s the smallest and most shallow freezes over 7 out of 10 winters. This results in ice-fishing and a decrease in lake-affect snow. The Ohio Coast Guard says the best thing to do is use common sense and “not try to walk to Canada.” (That would mean driving is discouraged as well.)
I’m feeling smarter about the Great Lakes now. Plus, I found this piece of lake trivia: How much water do the Great Lakes hold? If you were able to pour the lakes’ contents out across the lower 48 states of the U.S., you’d create one gigantic swimming pool nine-and-a-half feet deep from coast to coast.
The Great Lakes are a meaningful part of the Michigan experience. I hope the road leads you there in all seasons. Each has something beautiful to offer.