The still-frozen waters are causing the fish in the lakes to delay spawning, and the ducks to die at an alarming rate due to the inability to dive in the water for food. The shores are also seeing large amounts of ice pile up, as large chunks are pushed onto them by high winds.
People are also feeling the effects as the Coast Guard has had to cut through the 2-feet-thick ice on Lake Superior, in order to transport coal from Minnesota to the upper peninsula town of Marquette, Mich., so that the local coal mining industry can continue operations.
The melting ice is expected to cause water levels to rise in the lakes to levels not seen in several years. Water level variations are normal and an exceptionally dry summer could stabilize the water levels and the environmental effects of last winter, but more winters like this last one could cause long-term damage.
"We don't know, as this winter really exemplified, what's going to happen ... If we're going to have three more severe winters, or flip back to three more winters like we've had the past few years," said Drew Gronewold of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
Environmental scientists have previously warned that, due to escalating climate change, more extreme winters with phenomena -- like the polar vortex that plunged the country into record-low temperatures -- could become more frequent.