With temperatures 50 degrees below the freezing point of water, the shoreline of Lake Michigan has turned into an icy winter wonderland that kind of makes you forget how bitterly, miserably cold it is outside.

According to Tom Skilling, a longtime Chicago forecaster and WGN-TV’s chief meteorologist, Lake Michigan has never completely frozen over. But he thinks it is possible when severe, prolonged cold settles over the Midwest.

Skilling reported that ice covered 90 to 95 percent of Lake Michigan in the winters of 1903-1904; 1976-1977; 1978-1979 and 2013-2014, according to data from the National Weather Service and Environment Canada. But there is no winter on record where the lake has frozen completely.

“Wave action and wind, combined with the vast reservoir of heat contained in the lake, have so far prevented complete freezing,” Skilling wrote in 2017. “Ice formation on Lake Michigan usually begins in January and reaches its peak in late February or early March.”

On Wednesday, Skilling said describing this week’s weather as “brutal” was an understatement.

“Lake Michigan took on the appearance of a boiling cauldron as air of minus-20 degrees and colder made contact with water sitting just above the freezing level,” Skilling said in his report. “I’ve lived here 40 years and never until today have never seen a more spectacular display of ‘sea smoke.’ ”

The Arctic air will loosen its grip on the Midwest by Thursday afternoon; temperatures might even approach zero degrees in Chicago and Milwaukee. By the weekend, daytime temperatures will be above freezing across most of the Midwest.


Ice and snow build up along Lake Michigan in Chicago. (Kamil Krzaczynski/EPA-EFE)

Ice forms along the shore of Lake Michigan before sunrise Thursday in Chicago. (Kiichiro Sato/AP)

Marius Radoi keeps his balance as he walks along Lake Michigan's shoreline. (Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images)

A young boy tosses a chunck of snow into Lake Michigan on Wednesday in Milwaukee. Temperatures were sub-zero with a wind chill of minus-50. (Jeffrey Phelps/AP)

“I’ve lived here 40 years and never until today have never seen a more spectacular display of ‘sea smoke,’ ” said Tom Skilling, a longtime Chicago forecaster and meteorologist. (Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images)

Mist rises from the city and Lake Michigan on Wednesday. (Kamil Krzaczynski/EPA-EFE)

Steam is seen above Lake Michigan. (Irshaad Geodar/Reuters) (Social Media/Reuters)

Ducks rest in Lake Michigan. (Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images)

Marius Radoi watches as steam hovers above Lake Michigan. (Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images)

Ice floats on Lake Michigan near Navy Pier at dawn Wednesday in Chicago. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

Ice floats on Lake Michigan at dawn Wednesday in Chicago. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)