The Two Degree Difference: Lake Champlain ice coverage

Two Degree Difference

Winter recreation is a huge part of everyday life for many Vermonters and New Englanders. This can include skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing to name a few. But with warming winters, many of these winter recreations are being impacted, especially when it involves lakes and ponds freezing over.

“The latest satellite images that we look at to see if it’s ice-covered shows that there is ice to the north, in and around the islands, and then some ice down to the south,” said Paul Sisson, Meteorologist in Charge at National Weather Service Burlington.

Satellite image of Lake Champlain from January 31st, 2021.

According to the Lake Champlain Committee, Lake Champlain winter ice coverage has continued to decrease over the past 30 years. Over the past 50 years, both New York and Vermont have experienced an average annual temperature increase of about half a degree per decade or 2.5 degrees total since 1970. This directly impacts winters in the Champlain basin, making them both milder and shorter.

“It has been a very warm year so far,” said Sisson. “December was 5.5 degrees above average and January was 4.3 degrees above average. We have noted the climate is warming in the Burlington area, so it goes to the fact that ice is not as extensive as it used to be.”

The chart below shows a timeline of when the ice on Lake Champlain has closed. Each dot marks the date of ice closure each year. If the ice didn’t close at all the dot for that year is in the red bar on top. You can see the frequency of the lake not freezing over at all rapidly increased in the past 30 years.

Image Source: Lake Champlain Committee

“It looks like 19 out of the last 30 years it hasn’t frozen over.” said Sisson.

While lakes and ponds will continue to see ice formation in the winter months, it may become less extensive in coverage as we see the trend of warmer winters becoming the norm due to climate change.

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