Monday, January 27, 2014

Will the Bay Freeze Over?

With a new blast of Arctic air approaching, this is not a trivial question:

Chesapeake Bay Mainstem could freeze
At the Chesapeake Bay, temperatures have dropped below freezing and ice is beginning to form.

That means the Chesapeake Bay Mainstem may freeze for the first time in more than 20 years, according to a tweet Friday morning from Steve Vilnit, director of fisheries marketing for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Although the water is around the freezing point of 32 degrees now, salt water freezes at lower temperatures, according to Mark Trice, program manager for water quality programs at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. But these could come next week.

"Looking at what the forecasts are with very low temperatures headed into next week, I would expect that we would see some surface ice around the Bay Bridge," he said. "How thick I can't say, but it's not something that's that unusual. We saw similar conditions back in 2004 and also some ice cover back in 2011."

The freeze will seem mild in comparison to the last event of this kind, though.

"I don't think this is going to be as bad as the biggest freeze that we had in our generation, which was back in 1976-1977 when we had ice covers that ranged from the Susquehanna River all the way down to the Pawtuxet River," he said.
I presume they're talking about the upper Bay, near Annapolis, and that he meant the Patuxent River (there is a Pawtuxet River, but it's in Rhode Island).

Since I have lived in Maryland (I came in 1985), I have never seen the Bay freeze across, but I have seen the Patuxent River near Solomons freeze across, and I have seen the Bay here at Long Beach freeze out about a quarter mile from shore.  I was surprised the last blast of arctic air did not produce more ice on the shore line, but perhaps the wind kept it too well mixed.  The water is very cold now. While I haven't used a thermometer to test it, it is clear the Bay is down near the freezing mark; the tide covers  ice frozen to the beach now without melting much of it.

I guess we'll find out in a few days.

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