Right now, an ambitious ice skater could glide across Lake Erie from Buffalo, New York to Toledo, Ohio. On Feb. 13, 88 percent of the Great Lakes froze during this winter's intense cold, reported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
More recent data from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory records that ice covered 77.3 percent of the lakes as of Feb. 25.
Winter Comes Back: Return of the Polar Vortex?
The last time ice covered so much of the Great Lakes was in 1996 when maximum ice coverage stretched over approximately 85 percent of the Great Lakes, according to the Midwest Regional Climate Center.
If frigid temperatures continue for a few more weeks, the Midwest Regional Climate Center suggested that this year could approach the record set in 1979 when ice shrouded 94.7 percent of the lakes' surfaces. Maximum ice cover on the northern lakes usually occurs between late February and mid-March, while maximum coverage on the more southerly lake generally occurs from mid-to-late February.
Great Lakes Filled With Plastic Bits
In mid-February, ice covered 90 to100 percent of Lakes Superior, Erie, Huron, and St. Clair. Lake Michigan was 82 percent ice covered, while 43 percent of Lake Ontario lay under ice, reported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This year's ice coverage stands in contrast to the trend of the past four decades. From 1973 to 2010, maximum ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71 percent, according to NOAA.
'Polar Vortex' Event Paltry Compared to Past Freezes
On February 17, frozen Lake Huron proved to be a life-saver for six passengers and the pilot of a small airplane, reported 9 and 10 News. The pilot made an emergency landing on the solid water of the lake after the aircraft's engine quit during a trip to Mackinac Island. Rescue crews placed plastic sleds under the plane's wheels and towed the aircraft to St. Ignace, Mich. using snowmobiles.
Top Image: An ice-covered pier on Lake Erie. Credit: Corbis. Bottom image: Great Lakes ice coverage, Feb. 25, 2014. Credit: NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, National Ice Center