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Ships on Lake Superior battle against worst ice build-up in decades

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news Superior, 54880
Superior Wisconsin 1226 Ogden Ave. Ste. 1 54880

Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

Vessels going to and from Lake Superior are having to convoy to get to the Soo Locks so they can make it through the ice.

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The Coast Guard says at least four days last week traffic was halted for several hours each day.

By several standards, this is one of the worst years for ice in the Great Lakes in decades. The National Weather Service started tracking freeze-ups in 1978, and says this is the second-fastest and thickest ice-up in 35 years. Coast Guard Soo Vessel Traffic Director Mark Gill says this is the worst since 1989.

“Christmas Eve was the first sign of trouble,” says Gill. “It got to the point that we’re not able to take ships down there anymore because the ice is so thick that it’s pressed to the bottom.”

In fact, the down-bound lane on the St. Mary’s River connecting Lake Superior with the lower lakes is closed. Gill says they use another measuring stick called “freezing degree days”, the number of degrees below freezing each day. He says they used to close the locks when that number reached 500.

“Using the old standards of closing the locks at 500 freezing degree days, we would have closed the locks the Monday before Christmas,” says Gill.

He says a trip from Duluth to Gary that normally would take three days now takes six to seven.

Gill says many ships on the Great Lakes are tying up early for the winter. The remaining hearty souls will lay up after the Soo Locks close on Jan. 15.

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