ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — It hardly comes as a shock with recent record-breaking warmth across the region that ice coverage on Lake Ontario is low. Recent reports though have it at some of its lowest levels ever for this time of year.

Image via: NOAA CoastWatch Great Lakes/National Ice Center/Canadian Ice Service

Records have only been kept since 1973 for ice cover unlike other weather parameters, because nearly all of the ice coverage readings happen via satellite. Currently the only areas on Lake Ontario that have any ice on them are the shallowest areas, located in the many bays and inlets on the northeastern periphery of the lake. It is important to note here too, as the third deepest of the great lakes, Lake Ontario has never once on record completely frozen over. Unlike Lake Erie which is by and far the shallowest of the great lakes by over by over 500 feet, and easily can freeze over completely given a long enough cold shot.

As of February 23, 2023 Lake Ontario has a total of 0.89% of ice coverage. Even compared to previous years on this date, of which some have been lackluster as well it remains impressively low:

YearIce CoverYearIce Cover
20228.85%20215.49 %
201810.34%2012 (Lowest on record)0.80%
Data via: GLERL/NOAA

Overall, average ice cover along all of the great lakes has been declining since as late as the 1990s. There are still years that buck this trend during major cold outbreaks like in 2015, but these are merely outliers in a downward sloping trend.

Via: Climate Central/GLERL

The impacts of declining lake ice are still being researched, but a study out of the University of Michigan, suggests that one of the long-term factors could be more lake-effect precipitation, in the form of both snow and rain. These extreme precipitation events, along with other events not driven by lake-effect can also contribute to higher agricultural and nutrient run-off which could lead to conditions for toxic algae blooms to form more frequently harming fish, and plant life in the lakes.

How exactly the lakes and their ecosystems react to these changes is impossible to say but is something to be closely monitored as especially here in Rochester, Lake Ontario is far from just part of our economy, but it’s a part of who we are.