At the Cleveland Water Department, they like models. Unfortunately for this winter, the models that predict weather conditions and corresponding ice cover are unsure of what to expect.
Models help them scientifically predict what is going to happen next, based on years of data recording what happened in the past. They also like a nice moderately thick coating of ice on Lake Erie each winter as it calms the lake, eliminates turbidity, and allows diatoms, which are the base of the sport-fish food web, to thrive.
When it comes to its water, models and ice add consistency and predictability to water treatment.
There is extreme uncertainty in what the weather will be, with most models predicting a winter roller coaster with temperature and precipitation changes (both higher highs and lower lows) widely fluctuating each week.
The National Weather Service (NWS) Cleveland office’s Great Lakes Freeze-up Outlook for the shipping industry reports the probabilities for La Nina extending through winter are approximately 95%. Yet, “there is high uncertainty in the December, January and February temperature forecasts for the Great Lakes region,” and there are “equal-chances of below, near, or above normal seasonal mean temperatures.”
For people living around the Lake Erie Islands, the best ice predictions are most often posted by Capt. Billy Market of the Miller Ferry Lines, who keeps his finger on the pulse of Lake Erie. This week, Market predicted that Lake Erie is as “thick” as it possibly could be without ice.
“If we just had a night or two (with light winds or no winds) and temps in the low 20’s, there would be ice as far as we could see,” said Market on Facebook last weekend. “Unfortunately, the 7-day forecast is not going to give us the cold snap that we need. Fingers are crossed for good (freezing) temps starting about Jan. 23.”
For islanders, ice is a very good thing. Especially when it can kick off the winter ice fishing season for walleye, a very popular pastime around Western Lake Erie.
The NWS forecast also predicts below normal temperatures heading into spring, and if ice forms the cold spring could extend the ice season.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2020-2021 Long Range Weather Forecast for the Lake Erie region agrees the only consistent thing about the weather for the next few months are lots of changes. The Almanac states that for some months, precipitation will be higher than normal this winter, but overall temperatures will also be higher. This means we’ll be getting more days of rain, with a few days of bitter cold mixed in.
The staff at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), who create the models for the Lake Erie Hypoxia Forecast, also predict winter ice cover. For Lake Erie to freeze there needs to be multiple days of very cold air to pull the heat out of the water and turn the surface to ice.
Because the air temperatures are predicted to widely fluctuate, we may also see that Lake Erie gets a glazing of ice over a majority of the surface area; however, the ice will be gone as soon as winds whip up the waters, breaking apart the frozen molecules and scattering them in the other 127.7 million gallons of unfrozen water.