BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It may not feel that much like winter outside, but the freeze is coming, and crews are heading out onto Lake Erie to prepare. New York Power Authority crews are heading out on tugs to begin installing the ice boom.
The boom consists of 22 spans of steel pontoons, and is about 8,800 feet long. Weather permitting, installation should take two to three days, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the operation.
“They started the process a couple weeks ago of taking the spans, the ice boom, out of storage. And they have it stored along the break walls right now. And what they do is they take tugs out, and connect it to the tugs and connect that to the junction plates of the ice boom and strand that across the mouth of Lake Erie,” explained Keith Koralewski, Chief of the Water Management Section at the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Once the boom is installed, it should remain on the lake until spring, promoting a natural ice bridge to stabilize the leading edge of the lake ice. Hopefully, that will prevent ice from jamming up in the Niagara River, potentially causing flooding and damage to infrastructure, and clogging the hydro-electric intakes.
The ice boom has been installed in our area every year since 1964, and since 1999, it has been required to go in on December 16 or when the water temperature falls to 39 degrees, whichever comes first. With the mild weather we’ve had so far this winter, it’s no surprise the deadline date came first this year.
Still, it’s important to tackle the installation now. “The reason for that is to ensure safety and to do it while the weather is still fairly nice,” Koralewski said, “to prevent any safety issues like high waves and winds, things of that nature.”
Just how long the ice boom will stay out on the lake will depend on the weather, too. It is supposed to come out April 1, if enough ice has melted. But we know from past experience that deadline is not firm. “The past two years it has been quite cold, we still had more than 250 square miles (of ice on the eastern portion of Lake Erie) as of April 1st, so it was delayed slightly. The two years prior, it was a little warmer winter, and it was taken out prior to April 1st,” Koralewski pointed out.
Our situation is not unique, though. Ice booms are also used on the St. Lawrence River and in other areas around Lake Erie.