Solid Shoreline and the Polar Vortex of 2014

Ice shelf on Lake Michigan shoreline one week after the POLAR VORTEX event of 2014
Ice shelf on Lake Michigan shoreline one week after the POLAR VORTEX event of 2014
(VIEW LARGE to see the couple venturing on the ice shelf) Pier Cove Beach on Lake Michigan near Fennville, Michigan
(VIEW LARGE to see the couple venturing on the ice shelf) Pier Cove Beach on Lake Michigan near Fennville, Michigan
One week after the POLAR VORTEX of 2014 on Lake Michigan shoreline at Pier Cove Beach. The creek there had nowhere to go but to run along the shoreline for quite some distance before slipping under the ice shelf.
One week after the POLAR VORTEX of 2014 on Lake Michigan shoreline at Pier Cove Beach. The creek there had nowhere to go but to run along the shoreline for quite some distance before slipping under the ice shelf.
Lake Michigan ice shelf  (Source: Tom Gill http://lapstrake.blogspot.com/)
Lake Michigan ice shelf (Source: Tom Gill http://lapstrake.blogspot.com/)
Few days BEFORE  the Polar Vortex event near Silver Beach on Lake Michigan in St. Joe, Michigan
Few days BEFORE the Polar Vortex event near Silver Beach on Lake Michigan in St. Joe, Michigan

How does this happen on The Great Lakes?

. . . And how do those twenty foot snow hills form off the shoreline? I especially always wondered how that happened and after many years of living in the area very near Lake Michigan, I finally had the opportunity to watch the progression! If you look closely at the last two photos above, you can see icy waves splashing up off the ice shelf, sometimes reaching 40 feet in the air. Well, every time the waves land, there are a multitude of sandy ice chunks sprayed over the frozen ice sheet or shelf. Then, as long as the ice sheet doesn't spread farther out from shore, the constant flow and crashing waves eventually builds up the mounds into giant spectacles. Once the ice sheet spreads farther out, the process stops and the ice mounds stay suspended there until the next melt, which is often not until Spring returns.


ICE WAVES HITTING LAKE MICHIGAN ICE SHELF

WAVES SLAMMING UNDER THE ICE SHELF

Shoreline same time last year in 2013 (View large to see St. Joe lighthouse through the fog)
Shoreline same time last year in 2013 (View large to see St. Joe lighthouse through the fog)
Frozen shoreline beginning to develop one week before the  Polar Vortex event on Lake Michigan and St. Joe lighthouse
Frozen shoreline beginning to develop one week before the Polar Vortex event on Lake Michigan and St. Joe lighthouse

But what is the process whereby the fresh water reservoirs of The Great Lakes suddenly transforms from free flowing into a frozen suspensions in the first place?

First, the air temperature reaches below freezing followed by the surface of the water temperature. Next, ice chunks form and float on the surface. If the lake is calm, the ice chunks are slowly pushed towards the shore and eventually stick together. The end result is not a solid sheet, necessarily, but rather ice balls or ice chunks freezing together on the shoreline.


The next group of photos were taken before the big storm struck showing the progression when the ice sheet initially forms.

Small ice chunks beginning to form a new ice sheet on a calm Lake Michigan sunset
Small ice chunks beginning to form a new ice sheet on a calm Lake Michigan sunset
Ice chunks moving into shore at South Pier in St. Joe, Michigan near Silver Beach
Ice chunks moving into shore at South Pier in St. Joe, Michigan near Silver Beach
Ice chunks moving into shore at South Pier in St. Joe, Michigan near Silver Beach
Ice chunks moving into shore at South Pier in St. Joe, Michigan near Silver Beach
Display of solid ice chunks and dramatic Icicles on light head of North Pier in St. Joe, Michigan near Silver Beach (Source: Thomas Zakowski http://500px.com/ThomasZakowski)
Display of solid ice chunks and dramatic Icicles on light head of North Pier in St. Joe, Michigan near Silver Beach (Source: Thomas Zakowski http://500px.com/ThomasZakowski)
St. Joe, Michigan's Silver Beach shoreline with solidified ice chunks and frozen sand
St. Joe, Michigan's Silver Beach shoreline with solidified ice chunks and frozen sand
St. Joe, Michigan's Silver Beach shoreline with solidified ice chunks and frozen sand
St. Joe, Michigan's Silver Beach shoreline with solidified ice chunks and frozen sand
Solidified snow balls on shore of Lake Michigan
Solidified snow balls on shore of Lake Michigan

But think all ice on the Great Lakes is the same?

That’s not the case and now scientists have found out how to detect the differences. The development was reported recently in the International Association for Great Lakes Research using math. It's an important discovery for two major reasons.

1. To assist the Coast Guard in breaking up large ice formations

2. To help weather scientists predict evaporation that could lead to lake effect snow

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration developed a radar system and an algorithm to detect types of ice formations on the Great Lakes.

The researchers use radar systems from either satellites or mounted locations to bounce a signal off the ice. The radar sends back a “signature", which can be interpreted using an equation to determine which type of ice lays on the water surface. This signature and resulting information from the equation allows scientists to see things such as density and depth of ice.

Though the algorithm can detect up to 20 different variations of ice formations, the researches boiled those down to five key types:

  • Brash ice – Large, thick ice chunks that break off of other larger ice formations
  • Pancake ice – Round pieces of ice a few inches thick where the edges often curl up as ice pieces merge together
  • Consolidated pack ice – Large ice floes that have frozen together
  • Stratified ice – Layered ice with differing thickness and density from top to bottom
  • Lake ice – traditional, thin blue ice that forms atop lakes

The algorithm can also detect calm water.

Ice Breaking Ships on Lake Michigan

So how and when does the ice sheet spread?

When temperatures remain freezing for enough days in a row, the sheet will continue to grow and move out further past the shoreline, especially when the lake is calm. But when the 2014 polar vortex created temperatures in the single digits with wind chill factors as low as minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the ice pack held down the wave action regardless of the high winds. The sheet stretched to the horizon and in some locations as far as the eye could see! Observe in photos below!

POLAR VORTEX ICE COVER OF 2014 on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior (Red showing deepest ice cover)
POLAR VORTEX ICE COVER OF 2014 on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior (Red showing deepest ice cover)
Historic POLAR VORTEX of 2014 over Great Lakes region
Historic POLAR VORTEX of 2014 over Great Lakes region
Historic POLAR VORTEX of 2014
Historic POLAR VORTEX of 2014
2014 POLAR VORTEX effect on Lake Michigan's Pier Cove Beach one day after the storm
2014 POLAR VORTEX effect on Lake Michigan's Pier Cove Beach one day after the storm
Bluff view of Lake Michigan ice sheet reaching the horizon one day after the 2014 POLAR VORTEX storm
Bluff view of Lake Michigan ice sheet reaching the horizon one day after the 2014 POLAR VORTEX storm

DO NOT DO THIS . . .

People taking risks at Pier Cove Beach near Fennville, Michigan during a warm up only one week after the polar vortex of 2014
People taking risks at Pier Cove Beach near Fennville, Michigan during a warm up only one week after the polar vortex of 2014
People taking risks at Pier Cove Beach near Fennville, Michigan during a warm up only one week after the polar vortex of 2014
People taking risks at Pier Cove Beach near Fennville, Michigan during a warm up only one week after the polar vortex of 2014

Hidden Dangers

I've written an article previous on Hubpages about the ice melt and feel the need here again to warn people about the dangers on the ice shelf. Every year someone creeps too close to the edge of the big ice hills and looses a life from snow and ice caving in. One year, I recall in particular, when a child fell in and both he and his father drown trying to save him. Hypothermia sets in quickly in the frigid waters and the body's muscles don't do what we want them to.

DON'T BE FOOLED thinking the large ice hills are solid. Under them are cracks and loose pockets especially when things start to melt. I can't stress that enough! The pockets grow from underneath with the waves pushing against them and you never know when the top is going to cave in. Besides, the surface gets slippery and slippery as the snow cover turns to ice. It's very easy to lose footing!

And the farther out a person decides the venture, the deeper the lake water, so that's one more reason it's wiser to stay closer to shore.

The people in the photos above were taking huge risks especially the guy who was so far out with no one around and also the guy on the far edge of the ice shelf in the other photo. The temperature was in the 40's one week after the storm and things were melting fast.


HERE'S WHY . . .

Cracks
Cracks
Unstable Edges
Unstable Edges
This is what happens to unstable edges
This is what happens to unstable edges
Hidden Crevices
Hidden Crevices
Deep Pockets
Deep Pockets
Deep Holes
Deep Holes
Slippery Surfaces
Slippery Surfaces

You may be wondering if I took risks in order to capture these photos? Well, slightly, I admit, but I was careful and did not go past the first tier of ice shelf mounds where the water would be over my head in case I did fall through. Plus, the closer to shore, the more solid the ice shelf. As you may have already noticed, there are three rows or tiers observable for certain where the splashing ice balls did their thing.

How do the mounds build up in rows that way? It has to do with the wind and temperatures. The first tier was stabilized, then the falling temperatures and added new snowfall allowed new tiers to form.


I CAPTURED THESE WILLING SIGHTSEERS ON THE FIRST TIER OF THE ICE SHELF and that was precarious enough for us all. We did not venture further out from this spot where the water is deeper and the shelf is shallower.

. . . And finally, when things warm up and the melt down begins, the snow and ice chunks separate once again as seen in the photos below from an earlier time. The first photo shows a big chunk of snowy ice that stubbornly hung onto some old breakers.

Shoreline melt down on Lake Michigan beach in St. Joe, Michigan
Shoreline melt down on Lake Michigan beach in St. Joe, Michigan
Shoreline melt down on Lake Michigan's Pier Cove Beach in Fennville, Michigan
Shoreline melt down on Lake Michigan's Pier Cove Beach in Fennville, Michigan
Snow patterns from the ice balls at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan after the melt
Snow patterns from the ice balls at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan after the melt

And then you can do this . . .

Chill'n at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan
Chill'n at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan

Which of the Great Lakes have you visited most often?

  • Lake Michigan
  • Lake Erie
  • Lake Huron
  • Lake Superior
  • Lake Ontario
  • Never had the opportunity
See results without voting

© 2014 Kathi

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Comments 30 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

I had the chance to see this sort of thing up in Alaska. It really is an amazing process that happens. Your pictures captured it beautifully. Well done my friend.


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 2 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan Author

Wow Bill, that was fast! Thanks for the vote of approval and simply for stopping by. I'm going to have to get on bandwagon and visit some of my old friends here since I'm not around the hub much these days! Looking forward to it . . .


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

Wow you were brave I think, scary stuff taking a chance on going through any of it. It is beautiful though I must agree! ^+


always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

Hello Fossi, so glad to see you. This is an amazing hub, very educational for me since i have never seen the lakes. Your photography is beautiful as usual. Missed you..Hugs, Ruby


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

The photos are gorgeous, Fossillady! I love them. The description is interesting and educational, too. This is a beautiful hub. I'll share it.


sallybea profile image

sallybea 2 years ago from Norfolk

Fossillady

Gorgeous images - how fascinating and beautiful. Nature sure is a something special. I would love to see this for myself.


Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

Informative and beautiful article with great pictures!

I had thought that it is only me who loves hiking in winters. Very well organized also!

Btw, I hope you took best care in approaching these treacherously tempting ice formations. When I do that I normally tie myself up with a trekkers rope to a strong tree so that if ice caves in I am able to winch myself out. This is because I hike alone in the company of my dog.

Finally, I was able to read this excellent article thanks to AliciaC, who shared it.


mts1098 profile image

mts1098 2 years ago from InsideTheManCave

Never had the opportunity but the pictures are incredible - cheers and thanks


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 2 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan Author

Hi Jackie, ya, it's a bit unsettling and usually I stay off the frozen ice, but it was pretty solid where I was closer to shore. I was exited to show people the dangers and the beauty too! It's more unsettling to see people go way out where the lake is deeper and the ice is shallower! Good to see you my friend! I owe you a visit!

Hi my sweet Ruby, I hope you get the chance one day to see the lakes. People who never have are always so surprised and will say things like, "is this a lake or this is like an ocean". I feel so blessed to have grown up near the big lakes even though winters are a pain . . . hee! I hope all is well with you and will be by to see what you're up to! Love ya, Fossi

Hi Alicia, you're so nice to leave a great comment and share my hub! I have nothing but respect for that because your articles are always thorough and top notch! Will stop by soon! Kathi :O)

Hi Sally, I hope someday you get to see this for yourself. That's the great thing about the hub, you get to see amazing nature all around the world from a unique perspective! Thank you for stopping by, Kathi

Hi Suhail, say hi to your dog for me . . . hee! Well thank you for the great comment and you can rest assured I was very careful not to go out far where the lake is deeper and ice is thinner. It was about 20 feet thick and combined with hardened snow and sand. Glad you're careful too. Take care, Kathi :O)

Hi there mts1098 from your mancave . . . hee! thanks for stopping by and hope you may have the opportunity one of these days! Hope your year ahead is filled with blessings! Kathi :O)


Ray 2 years ago

Hi Kat-

We've known each other the majority of our lives- I've always known of your kind and sharing heart. These pictures are so neat. You've given others the opportunity to enjoy God's Nature; be they sitting at their computer, living in other geographic locations in our country, or for those that are physically incapacitated and unable. May God bless you for your kind and generous heart in sharing your creative talent.

Here's to many more years of friendship and the pleasure it brings!

Keep up the great work and God bless!


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 2 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan Author

You're the sweetest! Thanks for the great compliment Ray and words of encouragement! I will always treasure our friendship! Remembering our Beansie! Love ya, Kat


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I lived up north most of my life and saw some pretty amazing ice formations, but none like this awesome vortex creation. I enjoyed your photo tour and explanation of the types of ice formations.


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 2 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Just looking at the photos and videos is pretty crazy with what is going on with our weather.


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 2 years ago

What Breathtaking Pictures Kathi, and the Videos, I could feel the COLD...Thanks so much for the opportunity to see and read what is going on in your neck of the woods. Maybe someday I will see the great lakes. This Vortex is NOT to be taken lightly.

My Votes of UP, Interesting and Beautiful, as well as Awesome to you!


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 2 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan Author

Hi teaches, thank you dear for stopping by and taking the time to comment! I see you're still kick'n out a good deal of articles on the hub! I am only an occasional visitor these days, but could never let go completely . . . would miss my old hub friends too much! Take care, Kathi :O)

Hi Sandy, so nice of you to drop by and comment! I agree with you 100% about our crazy weather right now! Stay warm, Kathi

Hi b., you're so nice to leave a warm comment about such a cold subject . . . hee! It's really good to hear from you and miss the good ole days as a regular hubber! Will keep stopping by from time to time! Take care, Hugs, Kathi


3catsintheyard 2 years ago

Oh Kath! You have such a great eye; and the awesome ability to capture the beauty you see. Thank you for sharing! Your writing is equally as engaging (& informative) as your photography! I see the ‘big lake’ changing daily as well. Two days ago the ice stretched to the horizon. It is melting with such speed that the shoreline is now visible. I too have watched with trepidation, fear and anger (!) people walking on the ice. Days after the polar vortex, when photos of our ice encrusted Lighthouse made International news, there were adults (Hah!) with children and two dogs walking on the icy piers. Earthcam has a live video feed from Silver Beach in St. Joe. http://stjoelighthouse.com/ It was a helpless feeling watching, and I wanted to yell: “What is wrong with you!? You are endangering your entire family! Go home!”


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 2 years ago from Philippines

Wow! I enjoyed all your photos and explanations. This really is such a well written hub! First time for me to know those 5 different kinds of ice!

Despite your warnings, you are very brave to go out and take all those amazing photos! Hat's off to you my friend! I probably would have done the same. Sometimes our photographer's instinct can lead us to some danger. :)

Rated up and interesting!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

That was amazing Kathi! And yes I was glad you kept safe! lol! those photos were awesome! I saw something on tv recently, not sure where it was in America, but it showed the same sort of phenomenon where the ice flow came up over the houses! great info, and what a beautiful place to live, I am so jealous! lol! voted up and shared! nell


SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

SANJAY LAKHANPAL 2 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

Beautiful hub and excellent pictures. I enjoyed reading it. But the hidden dangers are awe- inspiring.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 2 years ago from malang-indonesia

I agree with Nell Rose. This hub was amazing. I like it, especially the photos...including the explanation. Thanks for sharing with us. Voted up!

Prasetio


newjerusalem profile image

newjerusalem 2 years ago from India

Excellent Hub with gorgeous pictures.


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 2 years ago

I always think: Thank God for Global Warming. Imagine how cold it would be without it!


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 2 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan Author

Good one poetryman! :O)


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

Hiya Kathi, came back to say hello, haven't seen you in a while! lol!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

What an awesomely well-done photo essay, with much valuable information. Your photos are beautiful, and your words wise.

We can nominate for 'editor's choice,' but I wish we could nominate for HOTD, for this certainly deserves that honor!

Voted up +++, shared here and to FaceBook, and double-pinned to two of my boards: The Great Outdoors, and Education and Learning.


CelebrateUSA profile image

CelebrateUSA 2 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

Fascinating! I have visited Lake Michigan often but try to avoid it during the cold weather. The cold seems as I age to get colder or are we just seeing a temporary shift?

Excellent video, descriptions and fantastic photos that tell the whole story. Voted up! Excellent!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

A very interesting and informative article. I remember the polar vortex from last year. Your photos are amazing and beautiful. I can't believe people actually would go out on the frozen lake that way. They are taking quite a risk. I don't fool around with Mother Nature. She is much stronger than I. Right now I'm living in NE Ohio 45 mikes from Lake Erie. Very similar. Keep warm!


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 2 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan Author

Hi Nell . . . I know I haven't been around much, saw your article on pinterest. I'm due to write something! Good to see you! xo

Oh Wow, Lizzy . .. thank you for the nice compliments and shares! I hope your Thanksgiving brings you many treasures and happy memories!

CelebrateUSA . . . I know exactly what you mean. I'm getting older too and seem to be more bothered by the cold and traveling in it is the worst. I just stay home! Thank you for the nice comments and have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Kathi

Oh Suzette, you know how it is then living near Lake Erie . . . the lake effect snow and cold! I so agree with you that messing around with Mother Nature can be a big mistake! Happy Thanksgiving to you! Kathi


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

Looking at your spectacular but chilly photos of the dirty ice makes me happy to be in San Diego right now. The polar vortex last year was really rough on my fellow letter carriers around the country, and I followed their plight on Facebook from the safety and comfort of the California sun. I spent the winter of 1983 on the shores of Lake Michigan while stationed at the Great lakes naval station, and all I remember was that there was a constant cloudy pall over the lake so that you could barely see 20 feet out. Great hub!


ocfireflies profile image

ocfireflies 15 months ago from North Carolina

Kathi,

Awestruck! Shared and Pinned. You are such an amazing photographer AND writer.

With Continued Admiration,

Kim

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