In this Dec. 26, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard the icebreaker Mackinaw maintains a shipping lane on the St. Marys River linking Lakes Superior and Huron. It’s been so bitterly cold for so long in the Upper Midwest that the Great Lakes are almost completely covered with ice. The last time they came this close was in 1994, when 94 percent of the lakes’ surface was frozen. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard
Updated: March 17, 2014 11:28AM
Lake Michigan looked a bit like a giant ice skating rink this week.
As of Thursday, more than 80 percent of the water was frozen.
But those who want to practice their triple axel on the lake should think twice.
It is still unsafe to walk on, National Weather Service Meteorologist Kevin Birk said.
“There have even been cases when the winds will shift, and the ice itself will move,” Birk said. “Somebody who ventures out on the ice could be pushed out.”
Ice coverage for the five great lakes combined reached about 88 percent Thursday, according to according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab.
Small bodies of water, such as ponds, usually freeze over in an even sheet of ice, but a body of water as large as Lake Michigan “become like a jumble of ice chunks that are pushed together by waves,” Indiana Dunes State Park spokesman Ken Kosky said.
The “shelf” ice on Lake Michigan is much weaker than the sheet ice on inland lakes, officials said. As waves crash together, ice chunks create air pockets and weak spots.
“It’s not stable and cave-ins have occurred recently. Warming spring conditions will only make it more dangerous,” said Brad Bumgardner, an interpretive naturalist with the Indiana Dunes State Park .
But Gill said the ice isn’t all bad. More ice means less evaporation and with the heavy snowfall, lakes have been getting more water fill.
“It protects the lake levels,” he said. “From a water level standpoint, it will bode well for us come this summer.”