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In another sign that spring has returned in Michigan, the Great Lakes are now ice-free — having cleared out enough to rank among the top 20 earliest thaws in the last 45 years, researchers said Wednesday.

The findings were reviewed by the Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, which is tied to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists there have been studying ice cover and related phenomena for decades.

According to the group’s Great Lakes Surface Environmental Analysis, “the #GreatLakes were officially ice-free as of Sunday!!! 11th earliest ice-out in the last 45 years,” researchers tweeted.

Data that scientists compiled going back to the early 1970s show the Great Lakes typically have averaged measurable ice cover through late April or early May.

For the 2015-16 winter season, ice cover was last measured on May 5, when 0.09 percent of the basin sported it, according to the data.

Ice cover has been reported as late as May 31 (in 2003) but gone — at 0 percent — as early as April 6 (in 1987), the figures show. As recently as 2012, the lakes cleared by April 11.

The information was released the same day Detroit Metro Airport recorded a high of 77 — 14 degrees above average for the date, according to the National Weather Service.

The thermometer is set to top out in the 70s again on Thursday, when the forecast calls for a chance of showers and thunderstorms.

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