Ice balls on Lake Michigan: How they form

Michigan

PORT SHELDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — If you live along the lakeshore or spend a lot of time there in the winter, you’re probably familiar with an interesting Lake Michigan phenomenon: ice balls.

The formation of an ice ball is similar to the formation of a snowman. You start by packing a small bunch of snow with your hands, then roll it over and over and over in the snow. The snow continues to build up on your initial small snowball until you have a massive one that’s big enough for a snowman. 

When building a snowman, your hands do the work. The waves do it when forming an ice ball. 

Ice sheets and slush build up along the lakeshore during the winter. The wind and the waves break off pieces of the ice sheets and small chunks of ice fall into the water. The waves then roll the ice chunks over and over again, smoothing and shaping the jagged chunks into relatively smooth spheres. 

Depending on the temperature and the size of the waves, the ice can continue to build and the ice balls grow. The results can range from an ice ball that resembles nothing more than a small piece of hail or one that looks like a large boulder. 

Ice coverage remains below average across the Great Lakes so far this year. Lake Michigan currently has 10.8% ice coverage and the Great Lakes coverage as a whole is at 10.1%. The normal ice coverage for the Great Lakes at this time of year is around 23%.

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