Arctic temperatures and rough waters mean that a winter phenomenon has returned to Lake Michigan’s shores. Photographer Ken Scott was able to take video of giant, boulder-sized ice balls in Michigan’s Leelanau County during the last days of 2014. For the past few years, the emergence of these mega-sized snow balls has captivated visitors and routinely received viral attention online. In spite of all the mystery, the origin of these nightmarish hail balls is actually rather simple. According to Park Ranger Amie Lipscomb, the icy spheres are formed when large sections break off from the lake’s ice cover and are cast adrift on the waves. Over time, the water smooths the rough edges of the ice shards and rolls them into balls.
Typically, experts say the phenomenon is not noticed as much because the ice balls tend to be much smaller. However, sightings in the last two years have found massive, dog-sized boulders lapping against Lake Michigan’s shores. The ice balls were especially prevalent during 2014’s “polar vortex,” when temperatures in the Great Lakes dropped dramatically and ice cover reached record levels.
“The water temperature on the Lake Michigan is just a little bit below freezing, so you get a small piece of ice that forms in the water and as waves move back and forth it adds additional water and freezes in layers,” meteorologist Joe Chalevoix told upnorthlive.com. “It gets bigger and bigger, and eventually you get big balls of ice, that are pushed to the shore by the wind.”
For locals, the ice balls are just another strange and interesting feature of Lake Michigan.
“What a great way to send out 2014, spending some time with one of winters wonders… ice boulders!” Scott wrote on YouTube.