Lake Superior Still over 90% Iced, Pushing Shipping Season Back Weeks

Despite that its already over a week into Spring we are still seeing Lake Superior at just over 90 percent iced over, a freeze so bad that shipping season on the Great Lakes is being pushed back to March 31 and extra Ice Breakers are being sent in to clear the way.

By March 30, NOAA Great Lakes Costal Forecasting was reporting that the largest of the Great Lakes was still at 90.4 percent frozen over, a condition that hasn't been seen in at least 20 years. (Updated satellite images can be seen here)

Only a narrow band on the northern edge of the lake is relatively free of ice while the mean thickness of the surface ice stands at 35.3 centimeters.

Lake Superior was just over 95 percent iced by early March this year, making this year its fourth highest ice coverage. The last time Lake Superior was 100 percent ice covered was 1977.

This is all putting a halt to the normal opening of shipping season on the Great Lakes. Shipping usually starts by the third week of March, but this year despite that the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie were opened on March 25, not a single ship has gotten through due to ice blockage.

The Coast Guard cutter Mobile Bay, stationed out of Sturgeon Bay, is now breaking ice and escorting ships at the Straits of Mackinac but even with that effort one ship got stuck and needed to be broken free.

Last week the Stewart J. Cort left its winter docking at Bay Shipbuilding Co. in Sturgeon Bay but got stuck on its way to the Soo Locks. The Mobile Bay had to sail to its rescue.

Jack Crumbaugh, vessel traffic controller who works as a civilian with the Coast Guard in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., told the Door County Advocate that the whole shipping season is now behind schedule.

Ships aren't leaving like they usually do, Crumbaugh said. "This excess ice has pushed back sailing dates by one to three weeks. In most places, the ice is from 2 to 4 feet thick, including Green Bay and out in the open in northern Lake Michigan, Huron and Superior."

With ice thickness at nearly 30 inches in places, it will be weeks before shipping will be able to move normally across the Great Lakes.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com


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