News: Mississippi River ice surveys are a sign of spring
Story by Patrick N. Moes
RED WING, Minn. - An airboat, ice auger and a ruler are just a few of the key tools for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, ice survey team.
The survey team, based at the district’s Fountain City, Wis., service base, began the 2014 Lake Pepin ice surveys Feb. 27, near Red Wing, Minn. The surveys are considered to be one of the first signs of spring to many of the local residents along the Mississippi River.
While some of the locals may be thinking of spring, the survey team was battling weather with wind chills hovering around 30 below zero.
“The weather definitely makes our job more difficult because of the bulky clothing we have to wear,” said Al VanGuilder, St. Paul District lead survey technician. “But once the equipment is up and running, we are usually good to go.”
He added that when the temperatures are as cold as they are the team just tries to stay as warm as they can.
The cold weather was also a reason for delaying the start of the ice surveys this year. Typically the team begins the surveys around the middle of February, but VanGuilder said they knew the ice would be too thick due to the coldest winter in the past 35 years.
Despite the unfavorable weather conditions, the survey team completed the ice measurements along the lake and will continue collecting them between Mississippi River mile markers 765 – 786, providing the information to navigation industries officials. The industry uses the measurements to determine when the towboats can break through the ice and begin transporting commodities to and from St. Paul, Minn.
Dan Cottrell, St. Paul District channel maintenance coordinator, said the tows usually wait until there is around 12 inches of ice before attempting to break through the ice. Lake Pepin ice is traditionally the last hurdle for the navigation industry to deal with before reaching St. Paul, because the ice is usually a lot thicker in the lake due to the slow moving current.
Data from the ice surveys will be posted on the St. Paul District website at: http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Navigation/IceMeasurements.aspx