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Great Lakes nearly covered with ice, which could mean another delayed shipping season

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Ice coverage on the Great Lakes is nearing 90 percent, which is causing some to worry about another difficult spring for the shipping industry.

"Obviously it's been another brutal winter," Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers' Association, told the Duluth News Tribune. "If it keeps going it will be a challenging resumption to navigation when we get going again in March."

For the first time since the 1970s, the ice coverage on the lakes has exceeded 80 percent for two consecutive years, the Weather Channel reports.

Ice coverage on Lake Superior, Huron and Erie is at 95 percent or more, and ice coverage on the Great Lakes was recorded at 88.8 percent Saturday, according to NOAA CoastWatch, which is a little more ice than at this time last year, WZZM reports.

All the ice has made for another unpredictable shipping season in the lower Great Lakes, with some ships requiring icebreaker assistance to make it through, the Observer reported.

Last year went on record as having the second-highest percentage of ice coverage on the Great Lakes since records began in the 1970s, topping out at 92.5 percent on March 6, the Weather Channel notes.

Ice on the lakes delayed the shipping season and kept ice breakers busy last year, which cost the economy more than $700 million and nearly 4,000 jobs, Lake Carriers' Association said in January, and also forced vessel operators to spend an unexpected $6 million last spring to repair ice damage on their ships.

That's why the organization has requested additional icebreakers to help keep the 900 miles of shipping lanes free of ice when they open mid-March, the Duluth News Tribune says.

Ice coverage on the Great Lakes comes as a mixed blessing however, making it possible for people to visit the Apostle Islands ice caves, which opened for the season Saturday and drew 6,000 visitors.

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