Enjoying Lake Superior

A kayaker glides along Lake Superior near the entrance to the Thunder Bay marina.

Hank Tremblay doesn’t care how cold the water gets at Neys Provincial Park. He swam in Lake Superior as a kid, and now that he’s Neys’ assistant park superintendent, he’s still eager for a dip when he can.

“To be honest, the temperature changes every day,” Tremblay said Thursday from the long, beach-front park just west of Marathon.

Technically, Lake Superior is a bit warmer this summer — but only by a smidgen.

Environment Canada says while some Lake Superior bays have already warmed up to a very pleasant 15-18 C, the average surface-water temperature has only risen by just under one degree.

“The lake is very big, so there are a variety of temperatures,” department water research manager Ram Yerubandi, who is based near Toronto, said Thursday.

The average surface-water temperature in Superior at this time of year is 13-14 C. Yerubandi said by late June, there were reports of shallow sections of the lake getting as warm as 20 C, making it feel more like a swimming pool than one of the world’s largest lakes.

Still, as recently as the first few days of July, you would’ve had to have been a polar bear to dip a toe in at Neys, where the temperature was a chilly 2 C, Tremblay noted.

Even when the water is really cold, campers still venture in the waves. Tremblay says he can relate: “When I was a kid, you couldn’t keep me out of the water.”

The pleasant water temperatures being experienced this year are part of an overall warming trend in Lake Superior that scientists say has been underway for the past 100 years or so, Yerubandi said.

That can negatively impact the health of cold-water species like whitefish, he said.

The four other great lakes have also been warmer than normal this year. Yerubandi said he has in particular been keeping an eye on Lake Erie, which has been sprouting algae blooms of late. The blooms, which can be toxic, do well in warmer temperatures and are sometimes the result of excessive loads of phosphorous from agricultural operations.

That’s not a problem in the largest of the five great lakes, which is sometimes compared to an ocean, and an unpredictable one at that.

In the late spring of 2014, Superior remained frozen over. Locals walked out to observe huge, wind-formed snow sculptures that had cropped up along the northern coastline.

“You still have very good water in Superior compared to what we see in Lake Erie,” Yerubandi said.

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