By BRANDON LOOMIS
Lake Champlain’s ice finally stretched from New York to Vermont on March 8.
As routine as that may sound for a wintry waterway that froze over in all but three winters in the 1800s — and all but four in the first half of the 20th century, it’s far from a given in the age of climate change. The lake “closed,” as the National Weather Service puts it, for the first time since 2015 and just the third time since 2007.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Matthew Vaughan, environmental analyst for the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission.
Closing means ice spanned the lake including at its widest parts, though car ferries continued to open a path for Plattsburgh-Burlington commuters. The lake ice has closed less than half the time in the last 50 years.
Although it comes later in the season than in all but two other recorded closings, the ice may offer some protection to the lake, its inhabitants and users later this summer. Loss of ice is one factor in the water temperatures in the lake, where the surface on average has warmed by 6.8 degrees Fahrenheit in August since 1964, according to the Lake Champlain Basin Program, where Vaughan is technical coordinator.
Warmer water at the surface can keep cold water at the bottom from rising and oxygenating, stressing fish and enhancing growing conditions for the cyanobacteria blooms that endanger swimmers and close beaches in summer. Ice loss isn’t the only influence, Vaughan said, but when joined with warm and still spring air it “can build that type of ‘perfect storm’ towards warmer water temperatures.”
For fishermen like Rusty Berube, a retired trucker from Bridgeport, Vt., the extra ice is just a treat, opening new areas to jig just south of the Lake Champlain Bridge at Crown Point.
“You can’t usually go out this far,” he said Thursday after pulling a yellow perch from the lake a hundred yards or so from the Vermont side. He hadn’t seen the channel there ice over entirely before, and didn’t plan to press his luck by going out further or approaching the bridge pillars. “It might be a little thin.”