Dreaded Polar Vortex Reaps Unexpected Benefit

Photo by Lt. j. g. Paul Junghans, Ninth Coast Guard District
Photo by Lt. j. g. Paul Junghans, Ninth Coast Guard District

Last winter, the deep freeze caused massive ice buildup and hampered shipping more than usual. The Coast Guard’s icebreakers were overtaxed, and two of them had to be taken in for repairs. Nearly a third of 60 cargo ships canceled operations early.

Some ports had to delay shipping this year by nearly a month. But there’s been a surprising after-effect of the polar vortex.

“Most of the lakes hit their high water mark last month. That’s – as far as I know – unprecedented, in the 155 years that we’ve been all measuring this,” says Craig Middlebrook. He's Deputy Administrator for the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

Middlebrook says the bitter cold eased evaporation rates across the Great Lakes…meaning they’re deeper than they would normally be at this time of year.

“Ships can load more fully, that’s a higher productivity, and more cargo gets shipped.”

Middlebrook says so far, shipping traffic is up nearly 5 percent this year.

16 American shipping companies operate vessels on the Great Lakes.

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