This is the MODIS Great Lakes satellite picture from Friday PM (1/8/21). Skies were mostly clear over a good portion of West Michigan with clouds east of Ionia and west out over Lake Michigan for much of the day. Take a look at Northern Lower Michigan. This is a good example of the fact that shallow lakes will ice over in winter before deeper lakes.
Houghton Lake is the largest inland lake in Michigan, with a surface area of 31.3 square miles. It’s a shallow lake with an average depth of just 7 1/2 feet. The deepest point in the lake is a hole in the East Bay at 22 feet below the surface. You can see in the satellite view (Jan. 8) that Houghton Lake is totally ice-covered.
The large lake north of Houghton Lake is Higgins Lake. It’s a much deeper lake. The deepest point in Higgins Lake is 135 feet. The average depth of the lake 44 feet. In the satellite picture, you can see that most all of Higgins Lake is open water.
Now look farther north at the two large inland lakes just south of the Straits of Mackinac. The two lakes are about the same size. Burt Lake is to the left, on the west side of I-75. The surface area of the lake is 26.72 square miles. Mullett Lake on the right is 25.98 square miles.
Burt Lake is a shallower lake, with an average depth of 23 feet and a maximum depth of 73 feet. Mullett Lake has an average depth of 35 feet and a maximum depth of 148 feet. Sixty-two percent of the lake is deeper than 20 feet.
Here’s a satellite picture of the Great Lakes taken on Feb. 17, 2018. Here you can see the same principle – shallow Lake Erie is the Great Lake that is farthest south and as you can see in this picture, it’s almost totally ice-covered. On the other hand, Lake Superior, considerably farther to the north, has a significantly higher percent of the surface are open water.
Lake Erie has an average depth of 62 feet and a maximum depth of 210 feet. Lake Superior has an average depth of 483 feet and a maximum depth of 1,333 feet.
Here’s Great Lakes ice cover Friday afternoon. Because of the mild temperature pattern, ice extent is well below average. The only ice in Lake Michigan is in Green Bay and a little just west of the Mackinac Bridge. There is no ice on Lake Erie. At Cleveland OH – the average temperature for the first 8 days of January was 34.2° (6.1° above average) and the average temp. for December was 34.1° (1.7° above average). It’s hard to make ice when the temperature is above freezing.
As we move deeper into winter (and a colder pattern for the middle of the month) you can watch the progression of ice extent on the Great Lakes. You can check the MODIS Great Lakes page to see recent satellite pictures. Keep an eye on the very deep inland lakes that take a long time to freeze over (if they freeze over at all). Examples of that would be Torch Lake east of Traverse City (average depth 111 ft and maximum depth 283 ft)…and the New York Finger Lakes (Cayuga has a maximum depth of 483 ft. and Seneca has a maximum depth of 618 ft).