Niagara Falls never freezes over, except in sexy headlines

Still flowing.
Still flowing.
Image: Reuters/Lindsay DeDario
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Temperatures low enough to freeze over Niagara Falls? Who wouldn’t read about that?

Plenty of locals, it turns out, who are accustomed to both extremely chilly air and exaggerated international headlines come winter. But however frozen the Niagara River—an important source of hydropower—becomes in parts, the water below or near the ice never stops flowing. (Each year, authorities deploy a long boom to restrain ice that would otherwise flow freely from Lake Erie into the river. That helps to keep hydroelectric intakes clear. Meanwhile ice-breaking ships work on breaking the backed-up ice into smaller pieces.)

Yet just as the water keeps flowing, so too do headlines about the falls freezing. A 2015 column in the Niagara Falls Review—entitled “The falls aren’t frozen, they’re just really cool”—made the point nicely, starting off with:

Hello, international media! Good to see you again. What’s it been, a year? Yes, I’m pretty sure you were here last February. You know, the last time the falls were “frozen.”

We dig having you, really. Even if we’re snickering behind your back. We love when you roll into town with breathless anticipation, ready to show the world something that hasn’t happened to the Falls in 50, 100, maybe even a thousand years—they’re completely frozen! A giant ice cube! We haven’t seen this since… uh, last year!

As the writer, John Law, noted, using “partially frozen” in a headline “takes all the drama out of it.”

Some articles go with, say, “Niagara Falls freezes over” for the headline, and then sneak in “partially” somewhere in the body. The unexciting truth is that it’s normal for the falls to become partially frozen in winter.

This winter, North Americans face what meteorologists have dubbed an “arctic outbreak,” a phenomenon leading to record-shattering temperatures and sharkcicles washing up on beaches. Some predict that Niagara Falls could—wait for it—completely freeze over.

A safer prediction is that, just as with the “polar vortex” of 2014, this winter will unleash a flood of articles about the falls freezing over. Many of the pieces will no doubt include photos clearly showing the water still flowing next to the ice, confusing some observant readers.

In any case, the picturesque falls, however partially frozen they might be, are worth seeing.