Status of River Navigation and Lake Pepin Ice Cover

by Steve Johnson, Supervisory Outdoor Recreation Planner


Commercial navigation on the Mississippi River here in the metropolitan area is likely to get a pretty late start in 2008. As the weather warms and river ice begins to break up, Lake Pepin (map) is usually the last barrier to northbound towboat traffic.

Lake Pepin is a wide spot in the Mississippi between Red Wing and Wabasha, where the river runs wide (up to three miles) and slow for 22 miles. Ice can get thick on Lake Pepin and river traffic needs to wait for it to melt—or at least get pretty mushy—before pushing through and bringing the first barges of the season to St. Paul.

On average, the first towboat of the season reaches the metropolitan area on March 20. The earliest date was March 4 (in 1984 and 2000) and the latest was April 7, 1978.

On March 19, 2008, up to 29 inches of ice still covered Lake Pepin, according to measurements by the Corps of Engineers. View the latest ice cover data.

Thick ice on Lake Pepin is produced by cold weather and lack of snow cover, and we’ve had both in the winter of 2007-2008.

While December was snowy, we really haven’t received a lot of snow since and our season total so far is 26.7 inches, about half of normal. The period December through February has been the coldest since the winter of 2000-2001, according to the Minnesota Climatology Working Group. Early March was also considerably colder than normal. Read a discussion of seasonal weather data.

Without significant snow on the ground, we probably won’t see much spring flooding. View the latest snow depth map.


Last updated: April 10, 2015

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