Lake Superior – U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaking Season Starts

December cold weather has ice forming in the Lake Superior / Thunder Bay region
Cold weather has ice forming in the Lake Superior / Thunder Bay region
The USCG Icebreaker Mackinaw – keeping the shipping lanes open. Photo: USGC

THUNDER BAY – The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie commenced Operation Taconite today in response to expanded ice growth in the commercial ports of western Lake Superior and the lower St. Marys River. Before ice impedes commercial navigation, icebreakers were assigned to each region.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder has been assigned to manage the ice breaking needs of western Lake Superior, specifically the twin ports of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, as well as the Port of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay is assigned to the St. Marys River. In the coming days as ice growth expands on the Great Lakes, additional Coast Guard icebreakers will join the operation.

December cold weather has ice forming in the Lake Superior / Thunder Bay region
December cold weather has ice forming in the Lake Superior / Thunder Bay region

Operation Taconite is the Coast Guard’s largest domestic icebreaking operation. The operation encompasses Lake Superior, St. Marys River, the Straits of Mackinac, Georgian Bay, and Lake Michigan. In the coming weeks, various commercial waterways may close after due consideration is given to the protection of the marine environment, the need for cross-channel traffic (e.g. ferries) and the safety of the island residents; who, in the course of their daily business, traditionally use naturally formed ice bridges for transportation to and from the mainland.

The implementation of Operation Taconite places additional movement criteria on commercial ships plying the western Great Lakes, St. Marys River, and the Straits of Mackinac. These measures include restricting tanker transits to daylight in the presence of ice, reducing speeds by two miles per hour in specified locations to reduce incidental ice breaking, and requiring additional voice and position reporting points throughout the operation’s area of responsibility. The Coast Guard recommends all recreational ice users plan their activities carefully, dress appropriately, use caution on the ice and stay away from shipping channels. Recreational users and island residents should stay tuned to local media resources for the status of regional waterway closures.

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