Here’s another nickname for the Great Lakes: God’s cereal bowl. At least, that’s what it looked like when this video was uploaded to YouTube and started making the rounds on the Internet:
Called “ice boulders,” they happen when small chunks of ice break off from main floes on the Great Lakes in freezing water. The motion of the wind and waves causes them to turn gently over, with a fresh coating of ice every time.
The layers just keep piling on, one after the other, until you’re left with those balls of ice in the video up above. They can grow to be larger than a basketball, and weigh more than 35 kg.
According to people in Michigan, where the ones above were filmed, they’re not at all rare, and they’re certainly a hit with photographers and dog walkers:
The reason they went viral this past winter was, when the top video was shot, it was early January and the eastern United States and Canada were in the grip of frigid Arctic air, and it seemed to everyone that mother nature had taken a really weird turn.
In fact, those ice balls, larger than the normal variety, were the most benign of the deep freeze’s effects. Between closed businesses, stay-at-homes, energy costs, along with the effect on river traffic of frozen waterways, the economic damage of January’s extreme cold was estimated at around $5 billion in the United States alone.
From icy cereal to snowy doughnuts, images of these curious confection-like constructions popped up all over the Internet in the first frigid weeks of 2014.
And unlike the ice boulders up above, “snow rollers” are quite uncommon, since they need a highly specific set of circumstances for them to form. Basically: You need a few centimetres of snow to fall on otherwise icy ground, or a layer of crusty snow.
Then you need strong winds to scoop out a small chunk, and then stay strong enough to roll it over and over, accumulating more layers along the way.
Unlike snowballs, which are more spherical due to the irregular way we humans roll them, snow rollers are cylindrical, with outer layers being thicker than inner layers, such that eventually the inside will crumble away, or be blown out, giving that doughnut shape.
They can get really big, too. Highway maintenance workers in Washington State spotted one that was 60 cm across, twice the length of your average ruler, with a hole around 20 cm, but they can theoretically get even larger than that, though they seem to range between bowling ball to baseball-sized.
Like those snow boulders, the rollers' appearance in the public mind was due to ongoing coverage of the freezing and stormy weather across the United States, with reports of sightings in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois.
They made headlines internationally, but of course, those conditions aren’t limited to the United States. Here’s a shot of some rollers in Dawson Creek, B.C., sent in by viewer Ryan MacLeod:
As far as signs of the snowpocalypse go, they’re certainly the more playful variety.
Niagara Falls stops flowing
You might have heard the story, and it was cold enough that most people would have been happy to believe it: In January, the temperature plunged so low that the iconic Niagara Falls froze over completely.
It would take civilization-ending levels of cold to cause the falls to actually freeze solid: The American side sees half-a-million litres of water flow over every second, and more than 2.2 million litres on the Canadian side.
But as it happens, cold weather did once cause the falls to run dry, just not because they froze solid.
In late March 1848, the gargantuan flow of water subsided to a near-trickle for around 30 hours, thanks to a massive ice jam up-river.
People actually ventured out onto the rocky riverbed to recover items lost to the waters over the years, before a huge wall of water roared down the channel and restored the falls to their glory.
Braver than us for sure, and personally, we wouldn’t really have been able ot enjoy ourselves on such a jaunt. We’d have been too weighed-under by the crushing sense of foreboding that, any minute now, millions of litres of water would come racing down the channel and sweep us into scenic oblivion.