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Weekend Getaways

Does the Lake of the Ozarks freeze over in winter?

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While the Lake of the Ozarks is best experienced in the summer months, winter brings a variety of freezes and challenges for lake residents. Complete freezes on the main Lake of the Ozarks channel are rare, but bays and docks tend to freeze regularly with the introduction of winter. While a sheet of white ice covering the lake may be a beautiful sight, it is a difficult — often damaging — experience for boat owners. Learn about frosts on the Lake of the Ozarks and how to protect docks during harsh winter weather conditions.

Background information on the Lake of the Ozarks

The Lake of the Ozarks is located in the Ozark Mountains in the state of Missouri. The lake is one of the nation’s largest constructed lakes and connects to Bagnell Dam. The dam produces electrical power used in major cities such as St. Louis, Missouri. The Lake of the Ozarks has an area of ​​approximately 93 square miles and stretches 90 miles in length.

Lake of the Ozarks State Park is an incredible vacation spot with campgrounds and other lodging options for visitors. Activities such as swimming, boating and fishing are available on Lake of the Ozarks. Around the lake there are numerous opportunities for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. The park offers boat rentals and has installed paved boat ramps for the convenience and pleasure of its visitors.

Various species of animals live in and near the Lake of the Ozarks. Over 54 unique species of fish swim the Ozark waters, including minnows and largemouth bass. Some unique reptiles in this region are the southern red-backed salamander and the northern water snake. Mammals include bobcats, river otters, and the nine-banded armadillo. Birds make up the largest animal classification near the Lake of the Ozarks, with 173 species. One bird, the belted kingfisher, has feathers on its head that look like a mohawk.

Lake of the Ozarks is a popular vacation spot in Missouri.


Weather and climate on the Lake of the Ozarks

The Lake of the Ozarks experiences wet, hot summers and cold winters that bring copious snowfall. The sky over the lake is usually partly cloudy regardless of the time of year. Many recommend visiting the Lake of the Ozarks between May and September as the weather conditions are most favorable during this time.

Average temperatures for the summer season on the Lake of the Ozarks range from 56º Fahrenheit to 89º Fahrenheit. Winter temperatures average between 25ºF and 48ºF. In summer, the warmest time of day at the lake is between 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The coldest part of the day in winter, on the other hand, passes in a 10-hour period between 12:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m

The sky is best visible in the months of August and September and it is cloudiest in February. Rainfall is heaviest in spring, with May seeing the average rainfall at 4.7 inches. Snow on the Lake of the Ozarks starts in November and lasts until early April. In April, however, snow is sparse, averaging one-tenth of an inch. Most snowfall occurs in January, which averages 3.2 inches.

Why do lakes freeze over in winter?

As temperatures begin to drop, the warm water at the surface of the lake cools and becomes denser. The water eventually reaches a temperature of 39ºF. This temperature is important because it represents the point where the water is at its densest. Due to the increased density in cooler surface waters, the water sinks to the bottom of the lake. As a result, warmer water replaces the previously warm—now cool—water at the surface. This turnover occurs over and over again until the entire water of the lake reaches 39°F.

When all of the water bodies in the lake have cooled and become most dense, the lake tends to freeze. Now the warmer 39°F water is at the bottom of the lake, while the surface water reaches an even lower temperature. They will not capsize because all bodies of water have passed their point of highest density.

This phenomenon is the reason why lakes freeze over from top to bottom. Surface water falls below 39ºF during a freeze and ice sheets form. Meanwhile, the dense, warm water at the bottom of the lake does not freeze, allowing fish and other aquatic life to navigate the water and adjust their body temperature despite the frost. Additionally, ice sheets formed by frost help insulate the unfrozen water below, keeping fish and water warm.

Will the Lake of the Ozarks ever freeze over?

The Lake of the Ozarks is prone to partial frost in winter. In most cases, the bays of the Lake of the Ozarks freeze in front of the main channel. In fact, complete freezing of the main channel on the lake is rare. The entire Lake of the Ozarks hasn’t frozen in two decades, but a complete freeze isn’t the main problem on the lake.

The most difficult aspect of Frost on the Lake is dock damage. Docks on the Lake of the Ozarks will experience severe winter freezes, causing numerous problems for boat owners. In February 2021, the main channel of the Lake of the Ozarks was partially frozen, causing damage to over 60 docks on the lake.

Frozen Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Docks on the Lake of the Ozarks will experience severe winter freezes, causing numerous problems for boat owners.

©Kaleb Tallmage/

Protection of boat equipment during a freeze

Protecting docks and boats during a freeze is crucial to avoid serious damage. There are several ways to mitigate the effects of a freeze. Below are some of the steps lake of the Ozarks boat and dock owners can take to protect their property.

General Instruction

Ameren Missouri outlines important and specific advice for dock and boat owners on the Lake of the Ozarks which can be found here. Some key points from Ameren Missouri on docks, boats and frost are listed below.

  • Links connecting docks to coastal structures such as piers should be flexible as water levels vary during winter.
  • The cables should be lengthened as the docks need to be flexible as water levels drop in the Lake of the Ozarks in the winter.
  • Tell the neighbors to watch your dock while you’re away.
  • Dock deicers may not mitigate the damaging effects of large expanses of ice.

Dock Deicer

During the Lake of the Ozarks freeze, ice and water accumulate and move around a dock. This action can put pressure on the structure of the dock and on the mooring system that connects the dock to the land. To avoid serious damage and the removal of a dock from its location, owners can purchase dock deicers. These machines help move water and ice around the dock to keep the dock itself from moving with the current.

maintain air pressure

When temperatures drop, air pressure is reduced. Boat lifts use air-filled tanks to raise the boat above the water, but a drop in air pressure means a boat lift is sinking. Maintaining air pressure in a boat lift is critical to ensure the boat does not sink or float away in the lake. To ensure a boat does not escape the dock in Lake of the Ozarks, boat owners can tie their boats to the lift.

One option that helps maintain air pressure is Firstmate Controls’ lift control system. This option allows a boat lift owner to add air pressure to their boat lift from their phone via an app. When buoyancy begins to decrease, air pressure can be added automatically or manually.

Keep heavy snow off the dock

A strong dock is key to avoiding dock sinking, which occurs when excessive weight on a dock causes it to sink into the water. Heavy snowfall is one of the biggest threats to dock stability in winter. Snow should be removed from the dock to prevent additional weight from sinking the dock. Additionally, asking neighbors or friends to keep an eye on the dock while an owner leaves their lakeside residence allows for instant notification if the dock begins to slide into the water.

Frozen lake and snow covered docks
Heavy snowfall is one of the biggest threats to dock stability in winter.

©Milla Rasila/


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