The Great Lakes Are Even More Beautiful When They're Nearly Frozen Over

For the first time since 1994 the Great Lakes are almost completely covered in ice, with only 12 percent remaining unfrozen. And now, thanks to NASA satellites, we can look upon this icy plain and despair—except that it's actually quite beautiful.

The average amount of ice cover for the Great Lakes is roughly 50 percent, but this winter has blown that percentage out of the water, so to speak. NASA's Earth Observatory just released the spectacular view from geosynchronous orbit, which shows the ice cover over the lakes on the afternoon of February 19.

Lake Superior is almost completely covered, which is what you might expect form the northernmost lake of the bunch. The surprise, though, is that the most southern—Lake Erie—is far more icy than its northern neighbors. It turns out that there's a good reason for this: Ontario is deeper than Erie, which makes it slower to freeze over. You can even see the shipping routes that icebreakers have had to crack through Erie's ice cover:

The Great Lakes Are Even More Beautiful When They're Nearly Frozen Over

One other cool detail: This ice can actually affect how much snow we're getting. When the lakes are unfrozen, the winds blowing over them can pick up moisture and dump Lake Effect snow on the East Coast. But when they're frozen, whipping up that damp snow is much harder. Unfortunately, NASA's meteorologist notes, it still hasn't stopped the continuous snowstorms pummeling us. At least it looks pretty. [NASA]