Friday, April 4, 2008

Lake freighters get going despite ice

Lake freighters get going despite ice

By Joe Knaapen

Gannett Wisconsin Media
March 26, 2008

STURGEON BAY -- The winter fleet at Bay Shipbuilding Co. has begun the annual spring migration to the Soo Locks.

Four freighters — the 1,000-footers Paul R. Tregurtha and Edgar B. Speer, and the 767-foot Arthur M. Anderson and the 806-foot Charles M. Beeghly — left Sturgeon Bay Sunday in the race to be first through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie.

The freighters ran into heavy ice on Green Bay, and were delayed despite tracks cut by the Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw and maintained by the cutter Mobile Bay and commercial tugs.

The freighters coming out of Bay Ship lost the race to the Cason J. Calloway, which sailed out of Erie, Pa., and was first through the Soo.

“There’s plate ice out there a couple of feet thick,” said Lt. Cdr. Matt Smith, commander of the Mobile Bay, which makes its home port in Sturgeon Bay.

After the Mackinaw cut a track south to Sturgeon Bay and returned back north to the Soo, Smith said the Mobile Bay was assigned to keep the path open for commercial traffic. Temperatures turned cold over the weekend, however, bringing ice back into the cut.

While the commercial tug Erica Kobasic out of Escanaba handled close escort work, the Mobile Bay widened the track north from the Sherwood Point light at the mouth of Sturgeon Bay to the Rock Island Passage, which connects Green Bay to Lake Michigan between Rock Island and Michigan’s Garden Peninsula.

Starting Tuesday, the Mobile Bay began cutting a track from Sherwood Point south to Green Bay, opening its port to ship traffic, Smith said.

The opening of the Soo Locks each spring begins the commercial shipping season on the Great Lakes.

The locks and St. Mary’s River provide a link between Lake Superior — where iron ore mined in Minnesota is stockpiled at shore ports — and the lower lakes, where mills that use the raw material line the shores from southeastern Wisconsin to upstate New York.

Traditionally, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the locks, more than 4,000 vessels carry up to 90 million tons of cargo through the locks every year. Most vessels transport iron ore; others carry coal, grain or stone.

North of the Soo, the Mackinaw has laid out tracks in ice 2-4 feet thick since March 14, said Lt. Cdr. John Little, who commands the Coast Guard’s largest and newest ice-breaker.

The 240-foot Mackinaw cut paths north from the locks to Whitefish Point, where freighters can find open water heading toward Minnesota ports such as Duluth, Taconite Harbor and Twin Harbors.

The Mackinaw escorted the through the locks early March 25, and ready for the next two northbound freighters and the southbound 1,000-foot Edwin Gott, which was downbound from Twin Harbors, Minn., with taconite for Gary, Ind.

The season has been Mackinaw’s busiest, said Little, who commanded Mobile Bay out of Sturgeon Bay a few years ago.

So far this month, the Mackinaw, which was commissioned in 2006, has served as host to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allan and a crew from the Weather Channel.

At Bay Ship, the ship movement means the crew of about 700 workers are under pressure to put the finishing touches on myriad details needed to put the winter fleet — 18 ships this season — back to work.

Nine freighters remain in port and most are expected to be gone by the end of March.

The phrase “winter fleet” applies to all the ships — from ferry boats to superfreighters — that make Bay Ship their home for the winter for repairs, inspections, surveys or offseason docking.

“We had a lot of late arrivals, boats coming in in mid-March,” said Todd Thayse, who manages repair services at Bay Ship.

By the end of the week, he added, all but three ships will have cleared the yard in Sturgeon Bay.

“There was heavy cargo demand, so they stayed out for an additional trip,” Thayse said of the ore carriers. “The steel industry is strong, so the demand is there for them to get back out there.”

Since mid-January, Bay Ship has worked three shift, seven days a week to get the repairs completed on time for captains and owners who are anxious to resume moving cargo, Thayse said.

“Everybody is trying to get out,” Thayse said. “They have to be careful because there’s heavy plate ice out there. The winds can move the plates, and take the ships right along with it.”

Demand was so heavy, Thayse said, that three freighters — the 1,000-footers Burns Harbor and Stewart J. Cort and 728-foot Joe Block — wintering in Milwaukee under the Bay Ship umbrella left earlier this month to haul taconite out of Escanaba.

Heavy ice conditions on Green Bay are helping convince some captains to use the ship canal and go east out of Bay Ship through Sturgeon Bay to Lake Michigan, Thayse said.

The captains are weighing the time savings and risks of traveling on low water through two downtown bridges and the Bayview Bridge over State 42-57 compared with potential delays in heavy ice by going west to Green Bay and north to Rock Island.


Investigating Weather Systems in the Montessori Classroom

North Carolina is in a severe drought. Currently, we are short approximately 10.5 inches of rain for the past two years. Severe water restrictions are in effect and hearing that neighboring towns have less than 100 days of water left is a frequent occurrence. That being said, we are entering our rainy spring season which also brings months of tornado warnings. Naturally curious, children want to know what causes weather, especially severe weather.

The Montessori classroom is a great place for children to learn, explore, and research naturally occurring phenomenon such as thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados. These concepts are usually introduced during the upper elementary years. Here, in North Carolina, we experience both hurricanes and tornados and this is enough to spur discussion and interest. If you live someplace where these weather systems do not occur, you can peak student interest by announcing that there are approximately 40,000 thunderstorms around the globe each day and that the class will have an opportunity to investigate how thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados form.

Before presenting these lessons to the children, it is important to have illustrative charts made of sea and land breezes, cold fronts, and warm fronts, as well as a map of high and low pressure systems and a variety of photographs (or video) of thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados. There is also a variety of vocabulary that needs to be explained before children can begin their investigations.

  • Sea breeze
  • Land breeze
  • Cold front
  • Warm front
  • High pressure system
  • Low pressure system
  • Convection
  • Coriolis effect

It may be helpful to watch the weather reports together over a period of several days in order to discuss and understand the terminology. You might also gather the weather report over a period of about two weeks and make predictions as a class as to what weather will be developing.

For more information for teachers, visit the National Hurricane Center website.

For informative, interactive games for students, visit Federal Emergency Management Agency website.

NAMC’s Upper Elementary Physical Geography curriculum manual provides background information and presentations on many weather related topics, including: Weather Systems and Weather Maps, Investigating Hurricanes and Thunderstorms, and Investigating Cold and Warm Fronts.

Tornado preparation key in central Illinois

With twister season under way, being ready for disaster is vital

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Peoria - When it comes to natural disasters, preparation is of the utmost importance.

With that in mind, the American Red Cross is urging people to take steps today to prepare for the tornadoes of tomorrow.

Tornado season officially began Tuesday, and will run through the end of June. And while central Illinois lies on the outskirts of the infamous Tornado Alley, the area is certainly no stranger to twisters.

Of the 15 counties in Illinois that have seen the most tornadoes since 1950, Tazewell and Woodford counties rank fifth and seventh, respectively. Then take into account that Illinois is annually one of the most affected states by twisters - 41 per year - and early precaution seems like a no-brainer.

"It is incredibly important," American Red Cross Central Illinois Chapter communications director Vickie Parry said. "The threat is very real, probably one of the more real threats of disasters we have in central Illinois. They can happen at anytime."

Which makes preparation all the more important, said Mike Hardiman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Lincoln. He said since tornadoes are typically not easy to forecast on a long-term scale, people should always be cautious of severe weather possibilities.

"Absolutely it makes it important for preparation, because we don't necessarily have the means to know when tornadoes can happen," Hardiman said. "But one could say that since we had an active winter, we could have an active spring."

Just the thought of a spring more active than Peoria's winter ought to prompt action.

"We can't prevent them, but we can certainly help people be more prepared so they can be more safe," Parry said.

Parry said traditional tips such as seeking shelter in a basement or a low-lying area are always relevant, but smaller details are just as vital.

Making sure children know what county they live in and how to locate it on a map can make a big difference as tornado warnings and watches are typically issued on a county-by-county basis. Also knowing the difference between a tornado warning and watch is valuable. A watch is when the threat of a tornado exists while a warning means a tornado has already touched ground.

"What we find is that kids, especially if they are watching TV, know they live in Peoria or Morton or wherever," Parry said. "But they may not know what county they live in, and that is important. If people can just take a few minutes to talk with their families on what to do in case of an emergency, it can go a long way."

Brian Feldt can be reached at 686-3194 or


Salvager tells of Napoli operation

OTTERY Rotarians had an insight into the salvage of the MSC Napoli thanks to a visit from a salvage expert working on the job.

Kees Van Essen, the senior salvage manager from Dutch company SMIT, arrived at the Tumbling Weir Hotel this week to give a detailed view of the company's work on the stricken ship.

The hastily convened meeting covered the whole incident from the ship's grounding, in Janaury 2007, when high seas caused it to lose containers off the coast at Branscombe.

It also covered its unloading and subsequent removal.

Otter Valley Rotarian Chris Pink said: "It was a real coup for Ottery to have him come from Holland and speak.

"I sent him an e-mail and he said maybe but, as he was so busy, he could not commit."

Mr Pink said he then received a surprise phone call last week to say SMIT would cover the expenses and Mr Essen would be available on Tuesday evening."

Mr Pink said: "It was a fascinating evening and Rotarians from across the area came to hear him detail the whole picture from start to finish.

"It gave a real insight into the difficulties they faced as storms continued to damage containers throughout the operation.

"He had a massive amount of experience from previous incidents such as the Sea Empress."

Mr Pink managed to secure Mr Van Essen through his own contacts in the shipping industry.

Prior to retirement he was the secretary of the International Maritime Organisation, the United Nations' specialised agency responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships.

The talk was part of a programme of events to increase membership of the Otter Valley Rotary Club.

Enjoy your weekend!