Michigan is known for its bitterly cold and snowy winters. But, if you brave the elements and head to the beach, you might be treated to a rare phenomenon: a herd of floating, perfectly round ice spheres bobbing in the waves. Ice balls on Lake Michigan form when a chunk of ice breaks off from a larger mass. It’s then polished, smoothed, and shaped by the waves as its moved towards the shore.
Like hailstones, they can even grow in size as they freeze further. Spot them on Lake Michigan, as far south as Lakeside and as far north as Charlevoix. Ice balls also float over to the Wisconsin shores of the lake as well. Ice balls aren’t unique to Lake Michigan (they’re even being spotted on the Great Lakes in Ontario this season); hence, they can be spotted across the globe. In the right conditions, of course.
Some places even have “ice pancakes” or “pancake ice”, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a flat, round circle of ice that can form in water under certain conditions. Slush or grease ice freeze to form them. The “rims” make them easy to spot. These form when ice pancakes bump into one another.
Our favorite place to observe the ice balls on Lake Michigan has to be the St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouse. That’s because the lighthouse itself freezes over entirely. As the waves and wind bash against the pier and light, it forms intense icicles and covers the whole thing in ice. It almost looks like a scene from Hoth. Or from the poster for the movie “The Day After Tomorrow”. It’s a pretty wild scene. You know, if the ice balls didn’t make you feel chilly enough.
Officially kicking off 2018 with this shot I took today on a below-zero wind chill Lake Michigan. My camera and I got completely soaked in freezing water from a huge splash off these ice cliffs that quickly turned me into a human popsicle for the walk back to my car. My hands and feet are still numb… happy new year everyone!
Here are some locations to spot ice balls on Lake Michigan:
More natural wonder…