CNS Canada — After record ice levels kept shipping lanes on the Great Lakes closed longer than normal during the 2013-14 winter, a return to more normal ice conditions is in the forecasts for 2014-15, according to data compiled by the North American Ice Service and released Wednesday.
“Right now, we’re looking at a near-normal season for ice conditions on the Great Lakes,” said Scott Weese, senior ice forecaster in Ottawa with the Canadian Ice Service, a department of Environment Canada and a member of the North American Ice Service. “Near normal, in comparison with last year, means less ice,” he added.
Long-range forecasts studied by the Canadian Ice Service point to a near-normal temperature regime, which means progressive low pressure systems moving across the region bringing cold outbreaks, followed by warmer conditions, said Weese.
In 2013-14 “we had a pattern that anchored the cold air over the Great Lakes and led to progressive and steady thickening (of the ice… we just didn’t see the warm-ups to slow the growth of the ice,” said Weese. “We see more variability in a normal regime.”
This year, “we did have some early and unusual ice development in some of the northern areas of Lake Superior,” he said.
However, he said, as a sign of the return to more variability in temperature after the initial cold outbreaks, conditions have warmed up, slowed the ice development, “and in some cases led to destruction of that early ice.”
In 2014, the last of the winter ice was still melting in June, “which was quite late,” while a return to normal would see all of the ice gone by late April, Weese said.
The shipping season at the Port of Thunder Bay, on the northern shores of Lake Superior, typically runs from late March through December, but thick ice conditions on the Great Lakes during the 2013-14 winter meant that the first boat didn’t move until late April in 2014.
— Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.