Ice jams worry residents near St. Clair River
Clay Township — Jo Cukr of Clay Township has been looking out her front door every day to see if the icy waters of the St. Clair River a quarter mile away have flooded nearby M-29.
Cukr said she is nervous about the potential damage a flood could do to her quaint mobile home park on Pointe Tremble Road that she moved to last summer.
“It wouldn’t take much for it to come right up in here,” said Cukr, 86.
Cukr is among the many residents at risk of flooding due to ice blockages caused by the long stretch of blistering-cold temperatures along the St. Clair River in southeastern St. Clair County.
Areas from Harsens Island to south of East China Township have the highest flood risk, forecasters say.
Cukr’s neighborhood is directly across from the Harsens Island ferry, which continued its normal operations through a cleared waterway to the island on Friday afternoon.
The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for southeastern St. Clair County that is in effect until 1:45 p.m. Sunday.
Roads, homes, and structures near the St. Clair River all face the threat of flooding, according to the weather service.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Andrew Arnold said the consistent single-digit temperatures haven’t helped the ice build-up on the river this week. However, Arnold said temperatures are expected to climb to the 20s Sunday and 30s Monday, which may mitigate some of the blockages.
“That will help that area with melting some of that ice,” Arnold said.
The ice blockage issue has been widespread in Michigan.
Twenty percent of the Great Lakes are covered by ice, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.
The western basin of Lake Erie, the lower portion of St. Mary’s River and north of the Sault Ste Marie Lock have also faced ice jams, U.S. Coast Guard Spokesman Rachel Christensen said.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Coast Guard deployed two of its ice-breaking tugboats to free several vessels in western Lake Erie and the St. Clair River.
Officials with the Coast Guard's 9th District, which covers the Great Lakes and is based in Cleveland, said three ships got stuck in ice on Lake Erie Monday and Tuesday.
“Due to the high ice concentration for this time of year, many shipping vessels are unable to transit various waterways without icebreaker assistance,” Christensen said in an email.
She said the risk of flooding from Harsens Island to East China Township continues to increase.
“There are several natural choke points where the river narrows and ice dams tend to form,” said Christensen, referring to the St. Clair River. “When ice catches on the outside edges of the bends and restricts the flow of more ice, a jam will occur.”
And officials aren't expecting the situation to improve anytime soon.
"Currently, ice coverage on Lake Erie is over 20 percent, well above the seasonal norm of 5 percent for this time of year," Coast Guard officials said this week in a statement. "Weather reports indicate that Lake Erie will build up more ice over the next week."
Alan Whitehead, who lives across the street from Cukr, said there is a flood warning every winter for the St. Clair River. He said one year he witnessed the icy waters flowing across M-29.
Whitehead believes the flood risk from ice jams is coming earlier in the season than normal.
“It’s a big deal,” said Whitehead, 58. “Because of the cold, it just came down all of a sudden.”