As Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) employees monitor ice falling from the cables and towers, hoping they can reopen to traffic soon, another round of unseasonable weather threatens to coat the bridge in ice once again.
At about 12:45 p.m. Friday, falling ice forced the MBA to close the bridge to traffic due to the danger posed to vehicles driving below. Temperatures in the Straits area climbed above freezing, loosening ice that had formed during a freezing rain event earlier in the week, but not warm enough to clear the structure quickly.
“When ice forms on the bridge, we’re at Mother Nature’s mercy as to when and how quickly it will either refreeze or clear completely,” said MBA Executive Secretary Bob Sweeney. “We know what a huge inconvenience and source of frustration it is for our customers, but we can’t risk injuries or deaths by reopening too early.”
Unfortunately, the National Weather Service is predicting another round of freezing rain to hit the eastern Upper Peninsula Saturday night. If it does, it could form more ice on the bridge and result in future falling ice closures.
The bridge has already been closed due to falling ice three times in 2018, including Friday’s closure, and 19 times total since 1995. The bridge was closed 19 hours, 44 minutes, on Jan. 26 and 27, 2018, and 11 hours, 50 minutes, on Feb. 20 and 21, 2018. This January’s closure was the longest for falling ice since 1995. The shortest closure since then was 37 minutes in 2001. The bridge closed three times in 2016, and four in 2017.
“It definitely seems to be a more frequent occurrence in recent years, with these mid-winter warm-ups and freezing rain storms,” Sweeney said. “Part of what makes these closures so frustrating is that we can’t reliably predict when the ice will come loose, or how long it will take to be safe again.”
Bridge officials are expecting the current closure to last at least into the overnight hours. The bridge can reopen if the ice refreezes and stops falling, or clears completely. Crews monitor the situation throughout the closure, both by going out on the bridge and through the MBA’s network of cameras located across the span.
“When people are waiting for the bridge to reopen, our staff doesn’t rest until we can get them moving again safely,” Sweeney said.
Mackinac County 911, using its RAVE Alert System, will send updates and information from the MBA to users’ cell phones any time the bridge has a partial or full closure due to weather or other conditions. Messages also will be sent when a full closure is reduced to a partial closure or when the bridge reopens to all traffic. To sign up, text “MacBridge” to 67283.
Details and updates are also available around the clock at http://www.mackinacbridge.org/fares-traffic/conditions/.