Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Lake Erie/Niagara River Ice Boom

Usually the ice boom in Lake Erie at the head of the Niagara River is removed before April 1st. This year, however, the boom is still in place.

As you can see from this satellite image taken April 2nd, the lake is still covered in ice - it was at approximately 95% ice coverage in the inlet area.

Last year the boom was taken out early on March 25th, which stands in stark contrast to conditions this year.

The ice boom is jointly owned by the New York State Power Authority (NYSPA) and Ontario Power Generation (OPG).

The International Niagara Board of Control, which is part of the International Joint Commission, a bi-national body created under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, oversees the annual installation, operation, removal and maintenance of the boom.  The boom is intended to maintain flow to the hydroelectric intakes on both sides of the boarder, to reduce the possibility of large-scale ice dams in the river, which cause flooding, and prevent damage to the docks and shore structures, including the water intakes.

The ice boom is installed when the Lake Erie water temperature, measured at the Buffalo water intake, drops to 4° degrees Celsius (39° degrees Fahrenheit) or no later than December 16th. The Order of Approval also states that the boom is supposed to be removed by April 1st, unless there is more than 250 square miles (650 square kilometers) of ice remaining in the eastern end of the lake - a situation that is generally considered extraordinary. 

The boom is made up of a series of floating steel pontoons each 30 feet (9.1 meters) long and 30 inches (76 centimeters) in diameter. There are 22 spans, each consisting of up to 11 pontoons, anchored to the bottom of the lake at 400 foot (122 meter) intervals by 2 ½ inch (76 centimeter) steel cables.

This live cam shows the Niagara River Ice Boom

This year we had the second largest percentage of ice cover ever recorded - on March 6, 2014 the Great Lakes were at 92.19% cover.  The largest cover was in February 19, 1979 when it reached 94.7%


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