Weather Wednesday: ice formations

In this Weather Wednesday we examine the neat formations created by melting and refreezing that occurs this time of the year.

Ice Tower.jpg
David Blume

FARGO — We have entered the melting phase of Spring as the April sun gets stronger but temperatures at night do allow for some refreezing, and that process can provide some temporary, but cool creations.

The sun is getting stronger and that is quite apparent in April as the rays from the sun start to soften and melt the snow, even when the temperature is below freezing. This creates puddles of melted snow during the day but as the temperature falls after sunset that water will freeze again, leading to icy patches on sidewalks, driveways and roads.

Not great for our vehicles or morning walks but this melting and refreezing cycle can also create a less formidable formation like ice towers. They are also called ice volcanoes and are more common in the Great Lakes. As the ice on rivers and lakes begins to soften from the solar radiation, cracks and holes will form in the ice. As the wind pushes waves up against the bottom of the ice, water will get pushed up through those holes and cracks where it then freezes. The process continues until temperatures climb too high and melting takes over.


Ice pancakes like these are also seen as ice on rivers starts to break up. If conditions are just right, the current and eddies in the water can cause the ice chunks to swirl and bump into each other, gradually smoothing out the rough edges resulting in these small ice circles. Ice pancakes are most often seen in the Baltic Sea and around Antarctica and while they look solid, they are actually quite slushy and can break apart easily.

This can also occur on a much larger scale like this giant one in Maine that was discovered just four years ago and has now become a spring spectating staple. Or some Minnesotans choose to make their own.

So keep your eye out for these fun, frozen but finite formations since they won’t linger long.

Jesse Ritka is a StormTracker meteorologist and holds the AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal of approval.

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