Afternoon Briefing: How this cold snap has Lake Michigan steaming one day and covered in a thin sheet of ice the next

Good afternoon, Chicago.

As Chicagoans cozied up inside to avoid the bitter cold, puffs of vapor settled over the surface of Lake Michigan making it look like a steamy caldron of soup. Days later, the sun poked out illuminating a thin, sparkling layer of ice along the shoreline.

A historically warm beginning to winter followed by a plunge in temperatures last week likely created this curious phenomenon, then rapid transformation, weather and climate experts say.

“We went from such a warm December to extreme cold,” said Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford. “The lake is still responding to December; it hasn’t caught up yet with January, so its temperatures are still above normal. It’s a pretty warm lake reacting to some very cold air and that’s really why we’re seeing this dramatic effect.”

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