Lake Michigan's Latest Ice Ball Outbreak Was Incredible

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Snowball fights are fun and all, but if you really want to up your game or possibly fend off a White Walker invasion, you should head on over to the Great Lakes to pick up some ice balls.

On January 5th, an incredible scene was captured on the shores of Lake Michigan near Glen Arbor: thousands of baby ice balls, riding back and forth atop the frosty surf and piling up along the shoreline.

It may look exotic, but ice balls like this—which range in size from tennis balls to giant bouldershave been spotted on Lake Michigan’s shorelines before, and elsewhere around the world. According to Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, their formation tends to coincide with extreme cold outbreaks, which the Eastern U.S. has definitely been enjoying.


Bruce Rowe, a park ranger at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, told Earther that ice balls occur “during most winters” on Lake Michigan’s southern shoreline, where he’s based.

“Ice develops along the shoreline of the lake and bits of it are broken off by waves and float out into the lake,” Rowe told Earther. “Their rounded shape develops from the action of the moving water which causes them to tumble about and become rounded. If the freezing weather continues these ice balls can slowly grow in size.”


After a week of record cold temperatures that caused virtually the entire contiguous U.S. east of the Rockies to shiver, Michigan’s Great Lakes are indeed quite freezing right now. On Jan 6, NASA’s Terra satellite snapped an incredible natural color photo of the region, showing Lake Erie almost completely iced over.


If you hurry out to the lakes before things thaw out too much, you might be able to pick up a few ice balls to lob at your noisy neighbors. (Kidding, kidding.) But Rowe offered would-be ice ball observers a warning: don’t venture out onto the lake ice itself, no matter how solid it appears.

“[It] often contains hidden gaps that can result in a deadly plunge into the icy waters of Lake Michigan,” he said.


Happy winter!