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Icy conditions slow start of shipping season on Mississippi, Superior

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Ice on Lake Pepin measured 29 inches last week, the thickest in the wide spot of the Mississippi River since the Army Corps of Engineers began tracking ice depth in 1998. The La Crosse Tribune explained that river barges can typically break through 12-15 inches of ice on Lake Pepin, considered the last major obstacle before reaching Red Wing and Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

That's delaying the start of the spring shipping season on the Upper Mississippi River. The newspaper said the first barge of the year usually chugs into La Crosse by March 24, but the nearest vessel on Monday was more than 200 river miles south, in Bettendorf, Iowa.

RiverTowns.net said icy conditions have slowed the paddle wheels of commerce on the river, with delays expected for road crews, construction firms, and utilities that rely on barges to bring supplies and equipment.

Further north, the Duluth News Tribune reports a convoy of three U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers arrived in Duluth on Monday afternoon, slicing through the Lake Superior ice and moving in fairly quick succession under the Aerial Lift Bridge. The three vessels have been cutting a shipping lane across Lake Superior and came to Duluth to restock and refuel. When they leave Duluth, WDIO explained they will head to Two Harbors to escort at least two ships filled with iron ore to steel mills on the lower Great Lakes.

This is the first time since World War II that the volume of ice has been so great, a caravan of cutters has been needed to assist ships.

The National Weather Service predicts below-normal temperatures in Minnesota and Wisconsin for the next three months.

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