BARRIE -- The Great Lakes typically reaches maximum ice cover in early March, but when Edward Holley now looks north from Sturgeon Point, it's open water all the way to Collingwood.

"It looks like there's no ice on it at all," says Holley, with Sturgeon Point Marina. "It's clear, which great. The river is still frozen, but as long it warms up, the river goes out, we can start getting boats in a little bit earlier.

Satellite images captured over the weekend show ice cover on Lakes Michigan, Huron and Georgian Bay at just 20 per cent; that's about half the ice cover we typically see and far below the nearly 80 percent ice cover two years ago.

Environment Canada's Dave Phillips says it's been a warmer, drier winter, and without ice cover, there's been more evaporation from the Great Lakes.

"There's virtually been no rain in the Great Lakes area in January and February," says Phillips.

"There's been snow, but precipitation has been way down because evaporation is also up because of open water the lakes have lost quite a bit and that turns out it's probably a good news situation in the Great Lakes."

Water levels in all of the Great Lakes are down from this time last year; Georgian Bay is down 9 inches, or 23 cms.

"Lower water levels, our shorelines are safer we are not going to see as much erosion," says Holley. "The beaches are going to be larger; that way, people can get out onto the even higher with their family without having to be all packed together."

Environment Canada is predicting a milder than typical spring, but open water on the lake means there still the possibility of more lake effect snow and squalls when a north wind blows.