Ice In Forecast Lowers River, Requires Caution

Cold and wintry weather may cause a dramatic drop in water levels in the St. Louis region, and elsewhere, the Corps of Engineers and industry groups urged caution in icy conditions.

Bernie Heroff, chairman of the River Industry Action Committee (RIAC), the industry group that works closely with the Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard to manage the Upper Mississippi River during times of extreme conditions, said the extreme cold weather forecast for a large region from St. Louis north could potentially lower the stage at St. Louis to –3 to –4 feet beginning January 14 or 15.

However, dredging that has been done over the past few months has prepared the region for the levels, he said.

Heroff said the drop should be moderated some due to extra water coming off the Illinois River, hydroelectric release from Bagnell Dam into the Missouri River and the release of some of the water above Melvin Price Locks and Dam at Alton, Ill. In the past, without moderating influences, it was not unusual to see a 5-foot drop in St. Louis from an “ice bite,” he said.

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Terry Bass, chairman of the Illinois River Carriers Association, said forecasts called for windchills of –25 to –30 degrees over the next week in central Illinois.

“You start seeing ice form out from the banks toward the middle,” he said of cold temperatures.

As boats start breaking up the ice, it piles up and can get several feet thick, he said.

One area of the river that often becomes a problem is in the Hennepin, Ill., area, he said.

Bass said it is common for industry to send boats up and down the river in teams during such conditions so they can help each other break ice.

He also suggested that crews use the buddy system when walking around outside since ice can make for slippery conditions and because it is easy for ice to build up on the bow of boats while breaking ice.

The Huntington Engineer District also sent out a notice to navigation interests concerning winter navigation on the Ohio River and tributaries January 9, requesting caution during the winter season.

“It is common for ice to build up beneath barges navigating the river, causing subsequent grounding in shoal areas,” the Huntington Engineer District said. “Should this occur, notify the nearest navigation structure as to your location and exercise caution when trying to remove barges so as not to disturb the navigation channel. When locking downbound there is the potential that buildup of ice under a barge could come in contact with the bottom of the lock chamber and puncture the bottom of the barge, causing it to sink. Additionally, any build-up of ice between barges in a tow or on the sides of the barges will increase the overall width and possibly hamper the entrance or the exit of the locks. Any noticeable build-up, either in or under the tow, should be checked to assure that the lockage can be accomplished without incident. Whenever conditions warrant, vessel owners should consider adjusting their tow size to compensate for ice formation.”

The Huntington district also said that if ice builds up on lock walls to the extent that the full usage of the lock chamber is prohibited, width restrictions would be imposed on lockages.

“In addition, ice at times will prevent the full opening of the lock miter gates,” the district said. “Should this occur, locking will cease until the ice can be removed or the width of the tow is reduced. Navigators should contact the lockmaster at each facility to verify locking conditions. This practice will continue as long as ice conditions warrant.”

Icing could also cause the freezing of the floating mooring bitts in the recesses of the lock walls.

“In the event the floating bitts become inoperable, it will be necessary for the vessel to utilize the fixed line hook and manually move the mooring lines as the water in the chamber is raised or lowered,” the district said.