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R. A. Assel, J. E. Janowiak, D. Boyce, C. O'Connors, F. H. Quinn, and D. C. Norton

Winter 1997/98 occurred during one of the strongest warm El Niño events, and the Great Lakes experienced one of the least extensive ice covers of this century. Seasonal maximum ice cover for the combined area of the Great Lakes was the lowest on record (15%) relative to winters since 1963, a distinction formerly held by winter 1982/83 (25%), which was also an exceptionally strong El Niño winter. Maximum ice covers set new lows in winter 1997/98 for Lakes Erie (5%), Ontario (6%), and Superior (11%), tied the all-time low for Lake Huron (29%), and came close to tying the all-time low on Lake Michigan (15%; all-time low is 13%). Here the authors compare seasonal progression of lake-averaged ice cover for winter 1982/83, winter 1997/98, and a 20-winter normal (1960–79) derived from the NOAA Great Lakes Ice Atlas and discuss the 1997/98 ice cover in detail. Winter air temperatures in the Great Lakes were at or near record high levels, storms were displaced farther to the south over eastern North America, and precipitation was below average in the northern portion of the Great Lakes region. The Northern Hemispheric synoptic flow patterns responsible for this winter weather, the Great Lakes winter severity over the past two centuries, and impacts of this mild winter are briefly discussed.

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