Lake Superior is 94 percent ice-covered as of Friday — the first time the largest Great Lake has had more than 90 percent ice coverage in four years. At this time last year, Superior had just 49 percent ice coverage — and was only 7.3 percent ice-covered at this time in 2017, a dramatic two-winter swing.
It's a similar story for the other Great Lakes:
• Lake Michigan is 40.2 percent ice-covered. At this point last year, it was 10.8 percent.
• Lake Huron is 84.8% ice-covered. At this time last year, it was 20.3 percent.
• Lake Erie: 94.1 percent. Last year: 20 percent.
• Lake Ontario: 23.3 percent. Last year: 1.8 percent.
Overall, the Great Lakes are 74.6 percent ice-covered. At this time last year, the lakes cumulatively were just 27.8 percent covered.
The area had weather patterns that held the frigid air over the Great Lakes region consistently, beginning in late January, said Jia Wang, a research ice climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.
"This winter has been very strange," Wang said.
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center initially projected El Niño conditions for this winter — above average sea temperatures around the equator in the Pacific Ocean that tend to create a mild winter in the Great Lakes, with Arctic air held north of the region.
But that El Niño proved so weak, it led to what climatologists call a "neutral ENSO" pattern over the Great Lakes region, Wang said. Think, "Meh." It allowed cold air to rush into the Great Lakes region from the north, and park.
Cold temps Up North could push Superior to 95 percent ice coverage, before milder temps move into Michigan the middle to end of next week, and ice across the lakes will recede, Wang said.