Lake Erie ice boom, a Great Lakes tradition, is ready

Dec 19, 2017

It's an annual tradition in the Great Lakes: setting up an ice boom across the eastern end of Lake Erie. 

The boom -- a series of pontoons that stretches nearly two miles -- is designed to cut down on ice jams that could damage properties and the hydroelectric power plant intakes along the Niagara River.

"It's critical for power production for both the United States and Canada," Lou Paonessa of the New York Power Authority said Monday. "It prevents the large ice flows from jamming up our intakes, but it also helps with ice flow and damage along the shoreline. Too much ice along the shore can do a lot of damage to docks and other public and private property, so it assists in that regard, as well."

It can take weeks to bring the pontoons off of the storage site, secure them to the breakwall and install the buoy barrels in the lake. 

Paonessa said the 22 steel pontoons stands are installed when the water temperature hits 39 degrees or Dec. 16 -- whichever comes first. "Since the water temperature's been so warm this year, we had to wait until Dec. 16 to actually start installing the stands out on the lake, and we had great weather to do that ... and it took two days."

The ice boom has been installed annually since 1964. It stretches across the mouth of the river that connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario -- and passes over Niagara Falls.

Last year, Lake Erie -- and the rest of the Great Lakes were relatively ice-free. This year, the forecast also calls for little ice cover.

Early season forecasts call for the five lakes to have a 26 percent ice cover. That’s down from the historical average of 55 percent.

Lake Erie (the shallowest Great Lake) and Lake Superior (the northernmost) are projected to get the most ice cover this year – 48 percent and 31 percent, respectively.