As Earth’s largest collection of fresh water, the Laurentian Great Lakes have enormous ecological and socio-economic value. Their basin has become a regional hotspot of climatic and limnological change, potentially threatening its vital natural resources. Consequentially, there is a need to assess the current state of climate models regarding their performance across the Great Lakes region and develop the next generation of high-resolution regional climate models to address complex limnological processes and lake-atmosphere interactions. In response to this need, the current paper focuses on the generation and analysis of a 20-member ensemble of 3-km National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-Unified Weather Research and Forecasting (NU-WRF) simulations for the 2014-2015 cold season. The study aims to identify the model’s strengths and weaknesses; optimal configuration for the region; and the impacts of different physics parameterizations, coupling to a 1D lake model, time-variant lake-surface temperatures, and spectral nudging. Several key biases are identified in the cold-season simulations for the Great Lakes region, including an atmospheric cold bias that is amplified by coupling to a 1D lake model but diminished by applying the Community Atmosphere Model radiation scheme and Morrison microphysics scheme; an excess precipitation bias; anomalously early initiation of fall lake turnover and subsequent cold lake bias; excessive and overly persistent lake ice cover; and insufficient evaporation over Lakes Superior and Huron. The research team is currently addressing these key limitations by coupling NU-WRF to a 3D lake model in support of the next generation of regional climate models for the critical Great Lakes Basin.