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Ice hills by the lake: Spectacular, dangerous and not going away soon

Tons upon tons of ice ended up on the doorstep of homes at Hoover Beach in Hamburg late last month, and on the shoreline at Fort Erie, and the Bird Island Pier.

Get used to seeing it; it's not going anywhere soon.

But when it does, where will it go? The Hamburg homeowners are especially interested. Will it fall into their houses, or seep into the lake?

No one knows for sure, but the consensus seems to be that it will melt back into Lake Erie.

"When it starts to melt, it'll run off the patios," said Jack Schultz of Hoover Beach, who can't see the lake from his front window anymore because the ice is so high.

Schultz, 86, watched the ice shove onto shore Feb. 24 from his second-floor bedroom window in the renovated house that had been his grandfather's cottage. Once it hit the retaining wall, it took 15 to 30 minutes to pile up higher than the house, he said.

"We have ice hills most every year, but they don’t get this close and they don’t get that high," he said. "I have never, ever seen it go like this."

Not many people have. The ice shove is drawing the curious from local residents to staff for the Weather Channel. Extremely strong winds created a seiche on the open water in the lake, pushing the lake 5 feet higher on the eastern end, breaking up the ice and shoving it on shore.

Schultz said the ice stopped moving toward his house, apparently, when ice downstream topped the ice boom in Buffalo, taking the pressure off.

Hoover Beach wasn't the only place ice was thrown out of the water. Ice chunks pushed over the Bird Island Pier and the parapet wall near the south Niagara Parkway in Fort Erie, Ont., forcing the closure of the south Niagara Parkway for four days. The pier is also closed.

Large chunks of ice remain on the Bird Island Pier after the Feb. 24 wind storm. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Ice ridges are "quite prevalent" at the Arctic Ocean, according to Brent Lofgren, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.  But they also occur in the Great Lakes. He said ice deposits like this are associated with storms, and ice can be dropped where there is shallow water and the ice ridge rests on the bottom of the lake or ocean.

He said in an email he believes "the ice will melt in place, barring anything even more unusual."

"This was an amazing event," said Weather Channel meteorologist Tom Niziol, who worked for the National Weather Service in Buffalo for more than 30 years.

He said ice break-ups are common on smaller inland lakes, particularly in Wisconsin, Minnesota and in Scandinavia.

"The warmer days of spring will hopefully melt them quickly, and rainfall can speed along that process. Now that they have piled up along shore, I do not believe there is any other major danger, unless some of them become unstable and fall, so climbing around on them may not be the smartest thing to do," Niziol said in an email.

Schultz said the chunks have frozen together.

"It's knitting together because it's nice and cold out," Schultz said.

Judith Levan, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service Buffalo Regional Office, also believes the ice will melt in place. She said even if there is a thaw and a refreeze, the ice would become more solid.

"Once that ice freezes it's really hard to move it," she said, but she added, "It's not something that we've seen before."

They haven't seen it to this degree in Mather Arch Park in Fort Erie, either. The south Niagara Parkway reopened Thursday, but Niagara Parks Commission staff and Niagara Regional Police continue to monitor the area, said David Adames, chief executive officer of the commission.

He said the ice, spilling over from the Niagara River, reaches 30 feet in some places.

"We don't have memory of something like that happening before," he said.

He said the commission is deciding whether to remove the ice or let it melt.

"That will take a long time," Adames said of the natural method.

How long? It depends on the weather.

Schultz said previous ice hills have started to melt in early spring. He said usually around the end of March or beginning of April, he notices the ice hills begin to move, although they have never been as high as this year's hills.

"It starts to melt from the bottom; it seems to find its way into the lake," he said of previous ice piles on the sand. "It’ll be a while."

"So, how long will it stick around? Anybody's guess — those blocks of ice weigh tons, so I don't assume anyone is going to attempt to move them," Niziol said in an email. "Mother Nature brought them there and will likely take them away in one or several ways."

The ice could last past Memorial Day, if previous ice ridges in shallow water are any measure.

"In 2014, some of this ice persisted on the shores of Lake Superior into June," Lofgren said.

Below, the #BNDrone takes you over the towering piles of ice that remain on Hoover Beach in Hamburg after a Feb. 24 windstorm that brought gusts of over 70 mph off of Lake Erie

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