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Corps finds Lake Pepin ice thicker this year as annual measurements begin

The whine of an airboat skimming across the ice on Lake Pepin last Friday is a sound that spring may be nearing.

The airboat is used by crews from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as they cross Lake Pepin to take annual ice measurements.

The Corps takes ice measurements at this location each year to predict the navigational outlook on the Upper Mississippi River.

This year the crews found the thickest ice was 29 inches near Stockholm, according to Mark Upward, a Corps spokesman from Fountain City.

"The ice is thicker this year than it was last year when we had fairly thin ice," said Upward.

"We have more ice this year than in the past several years," he added.

Corps officials say that Lake Pepin is the location of choice for these measurements, because the lake is the last part of the river to break up, and the current is slower on Lake Pepin than it is on the rest of the river.

Crews use a portable Global Positioning System to identify the exact location for taking the measurement, and a tape measure to measure the thickness of the ice.

In addition to measuring the ice thickness, they also record the general condition of the ice.

This data is used by the towing industry to predict whether or not it will be difficult for towboats to break through the ice and to determine when it's safe to begin towing to St. Paul.

Normally, ice measurements are completed weekly until the navigation season begins. The data are posted on the St. Paul District's Web site.

Upward said that the next measurements won't be taken until March 5 because weather conditions that affect ice thickness haven't changed that much

Figures on past and present Lake Pepin ice measurements are available online at

Last year, the first tow to make it all the way to St. Paul was the MV Cooperative Venture, a tow operated by American River Transportation Co. of St. Louis on March 30.

The average opening date of the navigation season in St. Paul for the last 10 years is March 20.