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Bodies of water are always a spot for recreation. Whether it be swimming, boating, fishing, or studying the creatures that live in it because studying can be fun too. They are most popular during summer when the temperatures rise and everyone wants to find a way to cool off or find that one relaxing spot where they can quietly spend the warm afternoon doing whatever it is they want. In Lake Michigan, swimmers, divers, and anglers come plenty.

What about when the temperatures drop? Only the bravest souls dare swim or dive in the icy waters. Very select fish are active during winter, and if you forgot to dry dock your boat, it could get stuck on the ice. What happens to Lake Michigan during the winter months?

What is the Current Temperature of Lake Michigan?

In order to find a baseline to compare how warm or how cold it can get, we need to understand the lake’s average temperature. Of course, it varies during the day and night, and the water’s surface temperature is significantly warmer than the deeper parts.

As of this year, meteorologists forecast that the lakes would (obviously) have warmer temperatures during the warmer season. Lake temperatures during summer and spring were measured at 30 to 32 degrees Celsius or 86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, especially around the shores. During the night, it dropped down to 21 to 23 degrees Celsius or 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Presently, as the temperatures drop down in preparation for the colder seasons, Lake Michigan has an average temperature of 19 to 23 degrees Celsius or 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the weather analysis of last year, the lake was 3 degrees cooler than this year, on both scales. They suspect that it would get progressively warmer next year, with the cold season dropping the temperatures as much as it raised.

According to temperature forecasts for this year’s winter, the lake surface could have temperatures constantly below freezing, or just slightly above freezing. Without El Nino around, we’re going to expect cooler days.

Does Lake Michigan Freeze Over Winter?

Yes, definitely. The ice forms where the water is most shallow, so on normal winter seasons, the entire shoreline is frozen over, with the ice going as thick as six inches. This is, however, an average as actual ice thickness can wildly vary. In general, the thickest ice is always the shoreline and it thins the closer you are to the middle.

When you plan to traverse the icy surface of the lake, always remember these tips, which can save your life.

  • Don’t judge by its looks. Transparent blue ice is often thicker ice. Opaque ice is often weaker than it looks, regardless of how thick it is.
  • Don’t use ice thickness as a judge of strength. Four inches of clear bluish ice can be stronger than a foot of milky white ice.
  • Even if you’re just around the shoreline, always carry ice picks or ice claws.
  • Even if you know the place, it’s best to ask a local shop or nearby authorities where the ice is thickest or thinnest.
  • Always assume that snow-covered ice is weak. Despite the temperatures, snow can act as an insulator, which means the water below it is warmer, making thinner ice.
  • A warm winter day won’t melt the ice easily. Altering warm and cold days causes porous and weak ice.
  • When you are in a group, never walk in a line. Scatter your weight along the ice.
  • Always make sure a responsible adult is aware that you’re going to the ice, even if you’re a responsible adult yourself.
  • Wear a life jacket or a snowmobile jacket with bright colors, so you’ll be easy to spot and if you fall, you’ll easily float.
  • If ever you fall, don’t shed your clothes. Heavy and baggy clothes will actually trap air and help you float, and will keep you warm for a few precious minutes.
  • If you fall, go to the ice in the same direction you came from. It’s likely stronger ice and can support you when you try to climb back up.
  • Once you get yourself up, roll away from the weak ice. Distribute your weight
  • If you do fall and manage to get back up. Call for help immediately and go to the shore as best you can. Hypothermia and frostbite can happen in minutes.
  • When you get help, drink something warm and avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks.
  • Above all else, call 911 or at least get medical attention. A minute in near-freezing water is enough to cause damage to your skin, muscles and internal organs.

Has Lake Michigan Ever Frozen Over?

The lake itself has a strange habit of freezing wider during warmer winters and doing the opposite in colder times. There’s a certain dynamic around the great lakes that makes ice formation so unpredictable, some of them lasting well during summer. But has the lake ever frozen over completely?

Almost. During the early 1990’s, there were records stating that nearly 95% of the lake was frozen. It was not a particularly cold winter season, but it preceded a warmer spring. Only a visible span in the middle of the lake was reportedly not frozen.

On average though, nearly 45% of the lake is frozen during winter. Mostly around the shores, with a few small islands inside the lake responsible for producing ice in the middle.

What is the Area of Lake Michigan?

To get an idea how much ice covers Lake Michigan every winter you need to find out how big the lake actually is. Lengthwise, north to south, it spans just around 494 kilometers. Its width is around 146 kilometers from east to west. This means the total surface area of the lake is approximately 58,000 square kilometers. That’s around 20,000 to 24,000 square kilometers of ice during a normal winter.

Despite how the lake freezes over during winter, Lake Michigan’s patrons never waver. There’s always something to enjoy and something to experience.

And if you’re planning on spending some time on the lake when it’s frigid out, make sure to bring along a warm hoodie to keep comfortable out there.