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Ice Conditions on Lake McDonald Vary

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Date: February 10, 2014
Contact: Denise Germann, 406 888 5838

Recent freezing temperatures have contributed to an increase of ice on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, and a reminder for visitors to be very cautious around bodies of water in the winter.

This past weekend park rangers received a report that two visitors fell into Lake McDonald, but were able to rescue themselves from the icy waters. The report indicated that the visitors were cross-country skiing on the lake when the ice gave way. Much of their equipment was lost.

Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said, “We encourage visitors to use extreme caution near the ice on Lake McDonald.” Mow said that the lake is not completely frozen over and conditions vary across the lake.

The lake surface ranges from open water to slush and areas of ice, often with all three conditions existing in close proximity. In areas of ice, there are often cracks and the ice may not be stable or thick enough to support recreational activity. Conditions on the lake are dynamic and change within a matter of hours. Mow said, “Lake McDonald is a beautiful lake with a spectacular vista in the winter, but please enjoy safely.”

While official records have not documented annual ice levels on Lake McDonald, the most recent year with the majority of the lake frozen over was in 2007. Weather conditions, specifically temperature and wind, are key factors in water bodies freezing over. Extended periods of below freezing temperatures are needed to form ice on the lake. Wind keeps water moving and circulating, keeping it from turning to ice. As weather conditions vary, so will the ice on the lake.

Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park. It is approximately 10 miles long, 1- 1.5 miles wide and at its deepest point it is over 460 feet deep.  

Glacier National Park Service maintains weather data in partnership with the National Weather Service, and has consistently recorded this information in West Glacier since 1950. Intermittent records were also maintained prior to this dating back to the 1920s. The all-time record cold temperature at the park in West Glacier since 1950 was December 2, 1958 at -36 degrees Fahrenheit. This winter’s lowest cold temperature to date was last week, February 6, with -22 degrees. 

Visitors are encouraged to visit the park’s webcams via the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/glac/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm for winter images. The Apgar Lookout and Lake McDonald webcams feature images of Lake McDonald.

For more information about Lake McDonald and visiting Glacier National Park, contact the park at 406-888-7800.

Did You Know?

Snow can fall at any time of the year in Glacier

Did you know that eight inches of snow fell during one night in Glacier's high country in August, 2005? The weather forced hundreds of backpackers out of the backcountry.