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Record-breaking winter threatens local economies in Midwest: 'It's been a weird weather pattern'

The number of concurrent years of low ice aligns with consistently warmer global temperatures.

The number of concurrent years of low ice aligns with consistently warmer global temperatures.

Photo Credit: iStock

This winter on Lake Erie is proving to be more eerie than ever, and not in a good way. It's quieter than locals would like because the ice cover across all five of the Great Lakes is unseasonably low and likely to reach an unprecedented low if the trend continues.

What's happening? 

The Guardian reported that while ice cover on the Great Lakes has been declining since the early 1970s, Earth's rising temperature is leading to an alarmingly low ice level. 

Typically, by mid-February, ice cover is around 40%, but this year, it was less than 5%. And three major cities in the area have had their warmest winters on record. 

"In January, we went through a week-and-a-half of low 20s; then it was 50 degrees," Joseph Kuzma, of Port Clinton, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie, told the Guardian. "It's been a weird weather pattern here the past few years."

Kuzma further said the unusual weather isn't only happening in winter months. The city had three tornado warnings last year, but there would typically only be one, if any.

Why is the change concerning?

While several factors — including a strong El Niño year — have led to unseasonably warm temps, the number of concurrent years of low ice on the lakes aligns with consistently warmer global temperatures. 

These warming temperatures are a result of human activity and show no signs of stopping, meaning this low ice season will not remain unprecedented for long.

Communities around the lakes rely on the winter ice to support major events, many of which have had to be canceled, costing local economies, Phys.org reported. 

The ice sheets that typically form along the shores of the lakes also protect the coasts from erosion from winter waves, so years with less ice see more irreparable damage to coastlines and ecosystems. 

The Guardian also pointed out that low snow and ice pack mean less moisture in the fields of local farmers in spring and could lead to drought during the planting season, something that is already plaguing our country's tomato growers in California. 

What can be done to help? 

To keep these concerning trends from continuing and local communities thriving, we must all work to hold the global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, ideally keeping it below 1.5 C (2.7 F). 

We can help by changing the way we get around, reducing our consumption of single-use plastics, and voting for candidates invested in the climate, to name a few. All these small changes add up to a cooler planet.

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