The brutal temperatures that have gripped much of the Midwest this winter have frozen over nearly all of the Great Lakes and are keeping regional ice breakers in business.
Ice covered 88 percent of the Great Lakes, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. The last time this much of the Great Lakes was covered with ice was 1994 when the 94 percent of the lake surfaces were frozen over, according to The Associated Press
Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes with an average depth of 62 feet, was 96 percent covered with ice last week and 94 percent the week before, reported MLive.com
. Lake Erie, which is bracketed by Buffalo to the east and Toledo, Ohio at its farthest western point, is one of the lakes' busiest shipping channels, with a port in Cleveland and its connection to the Detroit River.
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Lake Ontario, the smallest but second deepest of the Great Lakes, with an average depth of 283 feet, was covered by 32 percent ice as of last week and 27 percent the week before.
"In the last one to two weeks, we've seen rapid accumulations on Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan," Jeff Andresen, an associate professor in Michigan State University's geography department, told USA Today
Andresen said the iced-over lakes have some positive effects, such as shutting off the phenomena that creates lake-effect snow that tends ratchet up snow inch counts in communities along the Great Lakes area. The ice covered lakes also limits evaporation, which could increase lake levels, reported USA Today.
Andresen told USA Today that the Great Lakes freeze could delay a spring warming trend, helping out some farmers with certain crops, like fruit trees, which are less susceptible to freezing early in the growing season.
The winter could end up being the fifth coldest in the history of Michigan, Andresen told USA Today.
"We haven't seen many winters like this that are cold from beginning to end," said Andresen. "It has been an extraordinary winter, and the ice cover is a manifestation of that unusually cold winter."
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