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Arctic chill freezes into spectacular beauty in Lake Erie, Niagara Falls

CRYSTAL BEACH, Ont. – Lake Erie’s “ring of ice” is back.

From Dunkirk to Point Abino, Ont., ice volcanoes, tall dunes and other icy formations dot the shoreline.

A steady stream of ice gawkers pulled into the snow-covered parking lot at Crystal Beach Waterfront Park Friday. They gazed into the static Antarctica-like landscape from the comfort of their heated cars on a day when temperatures hovered just above zero with wind chills 20 degrees colder.

“Everyone likes to look at the lake freezing up, and the ice,” said Joe Sampson of Crystal Beach.

For now, the ice volcanoes are dormant.

“What you see now is as good as you’re going to get, unless it thaws and the waves come back,” said John Thompson of Crystal Beach.

Meanwhile, Niagara Falls has been attracting international attention – and a lot of visitors – this week with reports of its “frozen” appearance.

Niagara Falls flows, even as extreme cold has frozen portions of it in place and created an icy wonderland surrounding it, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The water is moving, but you might not know that by first looking at it, according to the Niagara Parks Commission.

The ice bridge at the base of the falls has formed over the lower Niagara River and the frigid temperatures and frozen mist have frozen portions of the falls over with a crust of ice. But the water is still moving underneath it, the parks commission said.

Call the falls a natural winter wonder, too, said Tony Baldinelli, the commission’s senior manager of communications.

“Just the beauty of the falls and the sights around it being encased in ice, there’s a totally different experience there,” Baldinelli said.

The recent Arctic blast quickly froze the lake, quieting eruptions of lake water and ice chunks and stunting the development of the cones and other ice castle-like formations that have attracted widespread attention and visitors over the last couple of years.

The formation of ice volcanoes depends on a unique set of weather conditions. And every year is different.

Research into the phenomenon by SUNY Fredonia scientists started in the 1970s.

In 1912, Niagara Falls ice bridge cracks, and three are swept to their deaths

Researchers found the cones are born from shoreline ice that’s frozen along the shoreline.

On-shore winds push waves under the ice and up through any gaps in it. Then, the repetition of waves and cold air construct the cones.

Some can grow as large as houses.

With open water and brisk westerly winds, usually about 20 mph or greater, there’s enough pressure to cause the ice volcanoes to spew lake water and ice out of cavernous vents carved out by the waves.

For now, one of the chief elements – the open water – is missing.

“The vents are probably frozen tight from the Arctic outbreak,” said Dave McQuay, an environmental educator at Evangola State Park.

As of Friday, more than 63 percent of Lake Erie was forecast to be frozen. That’s more than a month ahead of schedule.

 

In an average year, Great Lakes data shows it takes until Feb. 11 for Lake Erie to be as icy.

There’s still a little bit of open water near Chautauqua County, but closer to Buffalo the lake is nearly socked in with ice from a line extending from roughly Sturgeon Point to Point Abino, according to data from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

The weeks-long cold snap hastened the quick ice cover on the lake and shut down any ice volcano growth or activity.

In Canada, locals insist the Crystal Beach park is the best spot to catch some of nature’s icy handiwork. It’s where the winds and waves are most concentrated.

The cones at Crystal Beach appear to be the largest on the eastern side of Lake Erie.

[Read the SUNY Fredonia study: 'Ice Volcanoes of the Lake Erie Shore near Dunkirk, New York, U.S.A.']

On the U.S. side, there’s evidence of dormant ice volcanoes and ice dune formations at Hamburg Town Beach, Sturgeon Point Marina, Lake Erie Beach and Evangola State Park. Most appeared to be less than 6 feet high.

“We’ve got some cones formed, but they’re not erupting,” said McQuay, who leads tours of the ice formations at Evangola every February.

The extreme cold continues across the Buffalo Niagara region again Saturday.

The daytime high is forecast to be a record-breaking 2 degrees in Buffalo with an overnight low of -2.

Temperatures will rebound into the low 20s by Sunday and above-freezing for the first time since Christmas on Monday, according to the National Weather Service forecast.

Photo Gallery: Ice bridges and volcanoes

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