ST. IGNACE, MI – Kitchen table sized sheets of ice and 20-foot ice spears routinely fall hundreds of feet from the Mackinac Bridge’s towers.
That’s the word from the Mackinac Bridge Authority, which released a new video on Monday explaining why the bridge must close when ice is falling from its twin 552-foot towers and extensive cable system.
Anyone who has traversed the bridge connecting Michigan’s two peninsulas know the closures can be time consuming and quite frankly, annoying. Fluctuating temperatures going above and below 32 degrees have made it more of an issue this year with four falling ice closures occurring in late March and early April.
But historically, it doesn’t happen that often. According to the MBA, the Mackinac Bridge has been closed due to falling ice 28 times since 1995, for an average duration of roughly five hours per closure.
Without binoculars it would be tough to see from shore the large chunks and spears of ice that sometimes plummet from the towers and cables, so some may wonder, what’s the big deal?
The new video attempts to explain the hazards. According to the MBA, ice chunks, sheets and spears that fall hundreds of feet from the bridge’s towers and cables have damaged vehicles and have the potential to injure or kill vehicle occupants.
Thankfully, no injuries have been reported due to falling ice on the Mackinac Bridge, though the potential is real. MBA Maintenance Supervisor Joe Shampine has been in a vehicle struck by falling ice, so he’s seen up close the damage it can do.
“Seeing all these big chunks come down… it could hurt somebody really bad, if not kill,” Shampine said. “We see it all the time. It comes down and it’ll crush you. It’ll kill you.”
The ice is most dangerous when it falls from 300 feet up near the top of the towers and cables, according to the MBA.
“In the case of falling ice, it is so dangerous, that it’s cut and dried that we have to close the bridge,” said MBA Bridge Director Kim Nowack. “We know it’s a big inconvenience and we absolutely hate to close the bridge. We only do it in extreme circumstances.”
Mackinac County 911, using its RAVE Alert System, sends 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.
To sign up for updates, text “MacBridge” to 67283. Details and updates are also available around the clock at www.MackinacBridge.org/Conditions.