Winter Wonder: What is 'pancake ice' on Lake Michigan, how does it form?

ABC 7 Chicago Meteorologist Cheryl Scott explains

Cheryl Scott Image
Saturday, February 6, 2021
'Pancake ice': What is this winter wonder found on Lake Michigan?
ABC 7 Chicago Meteorologist Cheryl Scott explains what Lake Michigan's pancake ice is and how it forms.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- You may have noticed pancake or donut-shaped chunks of ice floating on the surface of Lake Michigan, but what exactly is it and how does it form?

ABC7 Chicago Meteorologist Cheryl Scott explains the winter wonder.

Earlier this week, "ice pancakes" formed in Lake Michigan right along the Chicago shoreline.

RELATED: Chicago weather: January 2021 snowstorm adds up to biggest in over 5 years

This occurs when near to below freezing temperatures settle into the region when the water temperature is just above freezing, Scott said. This results in a thin layer of ice and slush.

Due to the swirling movement of the water, the ice breaks apart and forms into circular disks. As these disks bang into each other, it helps form their outer ridge.

RELATED: Chicago Blizzard 2011: Looking back on 'Snowmageddon' 10 years later

The result: "Ice pans" or "ice pancakes" layered across the lake.

This phenomenon isn't that uncommon but doesn't happen too often, Scott said.

These ice disks are the beginning phase of ice formation on Lake Michigan. With arctic air settling into the region for a period of time, expect sheets of ice to form.

ALSO SEE: Chicago weather: More snow joins cold temperatures this weekend, creating icy driving conditions across area