Operation Coal Shovel, as the Coast Guard calls its ice-clearing operations in the southern lakes, didn't take place last winter because it was so mild, Coast Guard officials said. The project is carried out in southern Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
No icebreaking operations have been carried out in Lake Erie yet because there hasn't been enough ice, said Levi Read, public affairs specialist with the Ninth Coast Guard District office in Cleveland.
"Most of the ice is up north," he said.
Last year's decision not to carry out Operation Coal Shovel was unusual, and a testament to how mild the winter was, Read said.
"I don't have a number, but it was the first time in a while," he said.
Weather forecasters aren't sure yet if Lake Erie will freeze over solid, said Kirk Lombardy, a meteorologist with the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service.
"We may see another year of very little ice on the lake. It remains to be seen how it all plays out," said Lombardy.
In the short term, the next 14 days or so, temperatures are supposed to rise again, Lombardy said. The trends for the longer term, 30 to 90 days, are not clear.
Operation Coal Shovel is a joint operation carried out with the help of the Canadian Coast Guard. The U.S. Coast Guard has nine icebreakers available throughout the Great Lakes, Read said.
"The most important thing we're trying to do is keep the commerce open," Read said.