Updated: 02/27/2014 8:44 PM KSTP.com By: Brandi Powell
The transition from winter to spring this year could be a dicey one in Minnesota, especially on the rivers, once the ice starts to melt.
KSTP reporter Brandi Powell spent the day Thursday with the Army Corps of Engineers on Lake Pepin, near Red Wing.
Not only is this day one of its annual ice measuring season there, a record was broken. The ice, in one spot, was more than 30 inches deep.
Lake Pepin is blanketed with white snow. Expect for one small black spot, that’s moving. It's an ice measuring crew.
"[It's] chilly, but you keep busy enough with drilling," said Bill Chelmowski, Small Craft Operator, with the Army Corps of Engineers - St. Paul District.
He and his other crew member get on an air boat to measure the ice. But this year, they're starting two weeks later than usual.
Channel Maintenance Coordinator, with the Army Corps of Engineer - St. Paul District, Daniel Cottrell said, "The ice was really thicker than normal so we didn't need to get out there any earlier."
It's sometimes dangerous work, for the humble team of two. "It's all part of the job," Chelmowski said.
On their Thursday trek, Chelmowski said, "We [are] averaging right around 25 to 26 inches." He was talking about how thick the ice was.
The auger his crew measured with is 30 inches. They broke a record, from the previous 28 inches. They know, because the auger got stuck and couldn't drill any more.
The key numbers that cargo companies are looking for are 8 to 10 inches, to break through that ice. When it's that thin, so to speak, ships carrying coal and other bulk commodities literally "break ice" on Lake Pepin, in order to get the goods all the way to St. Paul.
But this year, that won't happen until late March, early April. In the end, they say, it all depends on Mother Nature.
The Army Corps of Engineers says crews choose to measure ice on Lake Pepin because most of the channels along the Mississippi River melt before that point. Lake Pepin is usually the last obstacle preventing cargo ships from making their way to St. Paul.
As for ice jams, the Corps says they're not common in Minnesota like they are in other states. In the past, Delano has had some problems.