My 11-year-old granddaughter Amber woke recently to a sight that caused her to shout, "Grandmommy, look at the lake. It's covered with ice. I never saw Lake Superior covered with ice before."
It doesn't matter how often one visits the North Shore, the experience of viewing the entire expanse of the lake covered in ice doesn't happen often. We moved here in 1998 and although every winter a skin of ice forms on the lake it usually comes and goes within hours. The ice my granddaughter saw was no longer here two days later. It returned again the following day. On March 23, Easter Sunday the ice had transformed into a heaving mantle of swirling ice eddy's resembling large sugared donuts.
Ice shards on Lake Superior March 2008
The coming and going of lake ice is a common experience for us newcomers, but a number of old-timers I interviewed back in 2000 for an oral history project in Schroeder have childhood memories of skating from Schroeder to Grand Marais.
I walked on Lake Superior once. I was part of a large group that gathered at the Sugarloaf Interpretive Center in Schroeder on March 12, 2003 to hear environmental educator Andrew Slade speak about the Lake Superior ice phenomenon.
Slade described the lake as acting like a thermal flywheel: a large object that takes a long time to move, moderating by its inertia any fluctuation of speed. That is why, though January and February that year flaunted ongoing days of subzero temperatures, the ice did not form until March. Satellite images that day showed Lake Superior completely frozen. Though Slade quipped that unless one can drive a car from Minnesota to Michigan the lake was probably not frozen over, most of us clambered over the massed peaks of ice-slabbed shoreline to "walk on water" with him.
The last time the lake froze like it did in 2003 was during the bitter winter of 1996 when a pack of wolves chased a deer across its surface in front of our home, according to Ken Kline who owned our home before us and watched it happen through our picture window. Though the lake didn't freeze over last year, a March storm heaped ice mountains (70 feet high according to my hubby Bill's estimate) along our shoreline. Those mountains â€” composed of ice boulders some the size of small tables â€” like the ice sheet that broke up two days after I walked on it in 2003, disappeared a week or so later.
Ice Mountain at Taconite Harbor on Lake Superior March 2007
When did the ice really "completely" cover Lake Superior? According to an article posted in the climate section of the University of Minnesota's Web site, Lake Superior was only 90 percent frozen over in 2003 when we followed Slade onto the ice. Records from the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth show that the most recent complete coverages of Lake Superior happened in 1996 (the year Kline saw the wolves on the lake in front of our house), 1979 and 1962. If those records are correct, and if our winters continue to warm as they seem to be doing, I doubt anyone will attempt to cross Lake Superior from Schroeder to Michigan in the near future.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors."Â Her book The Scent of God was a "Notable" Book Sense selection for April 2006. This article is an adapted version ofÂ her column appearing in the Cook County News Herald on March 14.