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Winter sport enthusiasts can rejoice as a cold snap has pushed total ice coverage on the Great Lakes to double-digits.

Great Lakes show big jump in ice coverage

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Monday, January 12, 2015, 7:51 PM - Winter sport enthusiasts can rejoice as a cold snap has pushed total ice coverage on the Great Lakes to double-digits.

Weather Network maps show the total ice coverage is up 14 per cent from Jan. 5 with Lake Eerie seeing a drastic change in coverage. Half of the lake froze over, jumping from 3.5 per cent to 49.9 per cent.

However with temperatures on the rise, meteorologist Tyler Hamilton says the increase may not last. 

"Below seasonal temperatures and unfavourable wind direction play a big role." By the weekend, temperatures in Toronto are expected to climb slightly above freezing. 

Lake Erie is the most shallow of the Great Lakes, meaning it is not unusual to see it completely freeze over. On the other hand, Lake Superior is the deepest and will rarely completely freeze over due to its size and volume. Lake Ontario normally doesn't freeze complete due to a few factors: It is a deep lake so it holds on to its milder water for longer and requires more energy to cool it off and freeze. It is at a lower latitude than Lake Superior, so it is in a relatively milder climate. 

Interesting facts:

  • The last time Lake Ontario completely froze over was in 1934.
  • The combined shoreline of the Great Lakes is equal to about 45 per cent of the earth's circumference.
  • Canada's longest inland waterway stretches 3,700 km from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Lake Superior. 
  • The Great Lakes are the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth, containing roughly 18 per cent of the world's fresh surface water.
  • The most severe flood in Canadian history occurred on Oct. 14 to 15, 1954 when Hurricane Hazel brought 214 mm of rain in Toronto region in just 72 hours.
  • The Great Lakes provides drinking water to 8.5 million Canadians. 
  • Every year 1.5 million recreational boaters enjoy the Great Lakes. 
  • In 2013, the Great Lakes showed the largest cover of ice in 20 years and its peak topped out at 97 per cent total coverage. 
Source: Environment Canada

With the recent death of a 61-year-old man who fell through the ice on Lake Scugog on Jan. 4, officials are reminding winter sport enthusiasts to be safe and aware of ice conditions. But how can you tell when it's safe to venture onto the ice? Although most areas of a lake may be covered in a layer of ice and snow, it can be very deceiving as the ice has varying levels of thickness. 

Here are your ice safety tips:

  • Ice fishermen, snowmobilers and other outdoor enthusiasts should wait for temperatures to drop at least - 10 C for a week or two before heading onto the ice.
  • Check for the thickness: Ice should be 15 cm for walking and skating, 20 cm for parties and games and 25 cm for snowmobiling. 
  • Be suspicious of gray, dark or porous spots in the ice as they may be soft areas. Ice is generally strongest where it is hard and blue.
  • Grey ice is unsafe.
  • Watch for pressure cracks, open sections of water and ice flows as these are sure signs ice is not safe and should be avoided.

Source: York Regional Police 

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