It seems pretty obvious how ice melts, right? It gets warm, so ice changes to its liquid form — water.
However, the way that the lakes, including the Iowa Great Lakes, melt may be different than what you would think.
Usually in March — the average date for ice out on East Lake Okoboji is March 31, West Lake Okoboji is April 5 and Big Spirit Lake is April 4 — the air begins to warm and the sun’s intensity increases. That will begin to melt any remaining snow on top of the ice on the lakes and allows light to penetrate through the ice.
Lake ice acts like a greenhouse, amplifying the sun’s radiation and actually warming the water beneath the ice more than the ice is warmed itself. As the water beneath the ice warms, the ice begins to melt from the bottom. It can also melt quickly from the top if warm winds blow through the area.
Ice continues to a weakened phase with surface and internal melting. At this point, the ice usually looks gray and can become “candled.” Candled ice is eroded ice that forms into long, vertical crystals. Because of the shape, this type of ice conducts light even more. Melting water will fill in between these vertical crystals and break them apart.
As winds warm, they will continue to melt ice as well as break up any weakened and candled ice. Sometimes candles will stack up on the shore and actually make a tinkling sound.
Ice can weaken and refreeze throughout winter, but when spring arrives, the melting process can happen quickly. It might be a weekend; it might be overnight.
Ice out definitely signifies spring!
There are many signs of spring — waterfowl migration, robins returning, snow melting and ice going out on the Iowa Great Lakes. A true sign of spring in the tallgrass prairie is pasque flowers blooming. The pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens or Anemone patens) is found in healthy tallgrass prairies, usually on dry, rocky hillsides and…Read More
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We all love the lakes. That’s what makes Okoboji, Okoboji. But how much do you know about the lakes themselves? Did you know that Upper Gar Lake is the smallest lake in the Iowa Great Lakes at only 37 acres with an average depth of 3.5 feet? That is the height of the average 6-year-old!…Read More
The temperatures drop, and we all wonder, “When will the lakes freeze?” My question today was, how does that actually happen? Of course, ice is created when the water temperature reaches freezing. That is pretty obvious. We’ve all seen ice cubes created in the freezer. Yet, lakes don’t freeze all at once, and they don’t…Read More