Record-setting winter put deep freeze on Lake Michigan

March 20, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Thursday, the United States Coast Guard and Senator Mark Kirk got a bird's eye view of the lake ice.

It looks as we may imagine the North or South Pole. In reality, we are about 20 miles east of Chicago, flying above the ice cap on Lake Michigan.

"Well, Paul, welcome to Antarctica, Chicago," Senator Mark Kirk said.

Kirk went up Thursday in Coast Guard Helo 6563 for a look at the melting remains of a record.

"It was bigger than I thought it would be," he said.

It is most certainly not as big as it was at the beginning of this month when over 92 percent of Lake Michigan was covered with ice. A record. And apart from the magnificence of the nature's picture, record ice brings good news and bad news.

The bad news is that the waterfowl population has suffered, specifically ducks who feed on fish.

"But when the lakes were covered with ice they were no longer able to get into the water to feed on the fish, so a lot of these birds have been starving or freezing to death during this winter," said Dr. Philip Willink, John G. Shedd Aquarium.

The duck kill may be extensive, though there's not yet a count.

The good news is that the ice cap slows evaporation, and so much ice should bring lake levels back to an average we haven't seen in the last five to ten years.

"The ice cover reducing evaporation is probably good and making sure this huge body of water is maintained," Kirk said.

"In the long run, even though this has been an incredibly harsh winter, it'll probably have a positive impact on a lot of animals," Willink said.

It takes a while to form an ice cap, not long for it to melt, which it's now doing. We turn north and or quickly over open water. But you go further north, the ice will be around a bit longer.

"Somewhere around the Mackinac Straights, it becomes from patchy ice to solid ice, all the way to Canada," said Lt. Dan Howe, United State Coast Guard.

The waterfowl population has taken a hit.

You can see evidence of that all along the shores of the lake. But the ducks of the great lakes have been here for hundreds of thousands of years, and they will survive despite this year of record ice and record aggravation.

That the water level of Lake Michigan and its sister greats will go up is perhaps most significant in all this.

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