Spend enough time on Facebook—scrolling past the horrors of the day, liking the occasional chubby baby photo, the usual—and you might come across an event titled “Bike or drive across Lake Michigan?” Set for Saturday, February 10 in the Milwaukee Harbor, the brazen event claims that “at some undetermined date in the near future, Lake Michigan MAY freeze enough to bike or drive from Milwaukee to Muskegon, MI. Are you in?” HELL YES WE’RE IN. Ahem. It goes on:
Bikes, and four wheel drive cars for sure. Snowmobiles, motorcycles, or even a plane to help scout a route would be good. 90ish miles, one way. I’m just saying, if it freezes, and you miss this chance, when will it happen again?
Feel free to invite more folks!
It’s a joke, of course, one made crystal-clear by a list of jobs folks can sign up for: body recovery divers, next of kin notification team, weight check specialists, marketing, etc. After all, Lake Michigan could never really freeze over, right?
The short answer: barring another ice age, probably not. Lake Michigan has a surface area of 22,404 square miles, making it the third largest of the Great Lakes. Wave action, wind, and the heat contained within the lake itself have prevented it from freezing over thus far. But it has come close: Records show that ice coverage on the lake reached 90 to 95 percent during the winters of 1903-04, 1976-77, 1978-79, and 2013-14. In typical years, ice covers less than half of the lake.
Then again, maybe it has frozen over. A 1963 piece from the Muskegon Chronicle claims that not only was the 85-miles stretch of lake between Muskegon and Milwaukee frozen over that year, but that it had also frozen over back in 1936. In the case of the supposed 1963 freeze-over…
Official verification came from R. W. Harms, meteorologist in charge of the U.S. Weather Bureau station at Milwaukee’s Gen. Mitchell Field.
Skeptical of reports the lake was closing in, he flew the Milwaukee-Muskegon route Tuesday, saw one vast field of white and sent out the message, “We can truthfully say the lake has frozen over.”
According to observers who accompanied him, there are great floes with dimensions measured in miles, which lie frozen edge to edge. In midlake, where winds and waves usually keep the water churning in liquid form, the ice field “looks like the hide of a giraffe.”
The Chronicle‘s Dave LeMieux questions the 1963 report, however, citing those pesky winds and waves. Oh, and for what it’s worth, lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie have frozen over before, while Ontario and Michigan have not (maybe).
So yeah, even if Lake Michigan ever kinda-sorta freezes over, don’t try crossing it by foot or vehicle. Leave that kind of dangerous travel to the ice balls.