WOOD Grand Rapids — Grab your Aunt Jemima: Conditions may be ripe for “pancake ice” to form in the waters of Lake Michigan. Pancake ice are disc-shaped pieces of ice that form on chilly and choppy waters in the winter time.
Earlier this week, a tweet from the The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Region stated that conditions are ripe for seeing “pancakes” across the Great Lakes.
The above picture was taken in St. Joseph in January of 2013 by Tom Gill. The circles you see in the water are especially large examples of “pancake ice.”
HOW IT FORMS
Pancake ice begins as slushy-wet ice crystals in the water. These crystals are known as “frazzle ice.”
If the water is calm, frazzle will work itself into a sheet of ice called “grease ice.” If it is choppy, pancakes will begin to form.
The reason the pancakes are so circular is because they turn and swirl in the water, picking up frazzle on all sides. Often, these pancakes will have a raised rim around the edge like a crust on a pizza because the pancakes often bump into each other in the water.
Pancake ice ranges wildly in size. They can be as small as a foot in diameter or as large as 10 feet wide.
It’s hard to pick up a pancake. Even though they can be almost four inches thick, they are usually too slushy to pick up. There are exceptions, like this cluster of pancakes in a place called the Lummels Pool in Scotland a few weeks ago:
A scientist from the National Snow and Ice Data Center told National Geographic said that the Lummels Pool batch of pancakes was especially rare because it is “especially unusual to see pancake ice frozen so hard that someone could pick it up.”
So far this year, most of the ice accumulation on Lake Michigan has been on the Wisconsin side.
But thanks to Arctic air, ice on our lakeshore could definitely start to form. It typically takes a few solid days of Arctic air to produce the pancakes. This means highs in the teens and lows near 0°.
If you are headed to the lakeshore to spot some pancakes, be very careful and please do not go on the piers. Waves are forecast to be very high this week, peaking at 12 feet Wednesday. With record-high water levels in Lake Michigan this week, it could be very easy to be swept into the icy water.