12/22/2014 12:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ice Formations and Patterns of Early Winter

Early winter yields some interesting photographic opportunities often overlooked by those waiting for dramatic, in-your-face displays of nature. A narrow window exists between the time water changes to ice on lakes, rivers, and streams, and this period can produce some of the most interesting ice patterns of the season.

The patterns seen in the photo above were created by a waterfall just a few meters away from the shore. Ice began to form in the still water, but was broken up and pushed around by the action of the waterfall. The irregular shapes moved, then froze in place to form an interesting pattern on the frozen surface of the water. Just three hours later, the patterns were gone - incorporated into the thicker sheet of ice that quickly developed.


Small lakes tend to freeze from the shore inward, and the ice attaches to the shore, then grows toward the deeper water. Winds create small waves that break and push the ice to the far shore where it collects and freezes into interesting cobbled ice patterns.


These same patterns are obvious in faster flowing water as well. Here, ice floats down the Kankakee River in northern Illinois, destined to collide with other ice downstream. As the ice sheets grow, they can become dangerous, crashing into everything in their path.


On the Great Lakes, similar formations occur, but on a grander scale. The wind and waves push the ice around forming pancake ice. These chunks grow larger and eventually freeze together into what appears to be a solid surface of ice floating on the lake. Below, the Michigan City, Indiana lighthouse is surrounded by pancake ice, as a mid-winter storm approaches.


The opportunity for viewing these transitional formations presents itself after the weather drops below freezing for the first time following a thaw. So if the first freeze has passed, be patient and wait for another- there are often several freeze-thaw cycles each winter.

Tom's Photoblog and Flickr photo gallery