Lake Erie virtually ice-free this year, Great Lakes ice cover at 5 percent

CLEVELAND - The Walleye are biting out in Lake Erie, but don't grab the ice fishing gear. Leave that at home. I know -- it's mid-February.

Die-hard Lake Erie anglers would normally venture out on a thick coating of ice to reel in their favorite fish. But this year, there is no ice. And Lake Erie is not alone in this ice-free zone. Temperatures around all five Great Lakes are averaging a good 5 degrees F above normal since November. Great Lakes ice cover stands at only 5 percent as of February 15.

In looking at a satellite shot of Lake Erie (see it in the photo gallery above) taken on February 13, 2012, note only a thin ribbon of random ice floating from near Pelee Point to just north of Cleveland. According to Environment Canada, this is the lowest amount of ice on the lakes since Winter 2001-02.

The graph shows Great Lakes ice cover since 1980. The green line denotes average winter ice cover. Notice two of the last three winters had above-average ice cover. This has been great news for Great lakes shippers. According to the Daily Great Lakes Seaway Shipping News, "Shipments of iron ore on the Great Lakes totaled 3,587,016 net tons in January, an increase of 24 percent over a year ago, and 57 percent ahead of the month's 5-year average."

The last time the Great Lakes were frozen over was back during the harsh winter of 1978-79. That season, the lakes were 95 percent ice-covered.

While ice is low in the Great Lakes, we've seen significant ice growth in the past year in Antarctica and in the Bering Sea. AND – look at the snow and cold they have in Europe! There have been more than 550 fatalities in Europe from the extreme cold. Alyeska, Alaska reports 526.6 inches since Nov. 1 and 614.6 inches since Oct. 1. They have already had 100 inches more than all last winter. h/t Bill Steffen, WOOD-TV

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