This is a brief idea of the ice conditions, weather conditions, and what this will mean to the approximately 90 sealing vessels still out on the Front, and to those of the Coast Guard working around the clock to save them. The basics of how the weather will affect the ice and those currently in it is fairly easy to understand, so here goes.
Warnings: Currently the Canadian Ice Service has issued new warnings in the Strait of Belle Isle, the Northeast Coast, and the East Coast. Here are some of the highlights for Newfoundland excepted from the bulletin:
- Strait of Belle Isle :” Strong ice pressure along south shore tonight and Sunday.”
- Northeast Coast:”Strong ice pressure along northwest shores from 25 nm west of Cape Freels to White Bay tonight and Sunday”
- East Coast: “Strong ice pressure in southern half of Bonavista Bay on Sunday. Unusual presence of first year ice in Trinity Bay and Conception Bay.”
For those unfamiliar with the forecast regions, the Northeast Coast extends from the Northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula to Cape Freels east of Twillingate, and includes all coastal sections and islands in between. The East Coast extends from near Cape Freels south along the coast to south of Cape Race, and it extends an average of about 100 km east of the coast.
Current Ice Field: As of today the ice field as observed by the Canadian Ice Service is shown here. If you want to understand the detailed information in the egg codes, see here. The basics are as follows: thin first year ice is 30-70 cm thick, moderate is 70-120 cm, and thick is over 120 cm. Any ice field is usually a mix of thicknesses and stages of development, and the colour codes on the ice chart show the most developed component. For example, on the east side of the Avalon Peninsula there are two small fields, designated I (near Pouch Cove) and O (Tor Bay, which contains Torbay) . Near Pouch Cove it is 2/10 thick first year ice, 3/10 moderate, and 4/10 thin first year in pans from 2-20 metres wide. Near Tor Bay it is 3/10 concentration and is thick first year ice (in this case over 120 cm thick pans).
Main Message: The general story is moderate to thick first year ice extending from Labrador along all of the Northeast Coast and south into Bonavista Bay. Trinity Bay is filled with moderate to thick first year ice, and Conception Bay has some thick first year ice. Additionally, the eastern side of the Avalon has some thicker than normal ice in the bay east of Pouch Cove , and in Tor Bay (which contains Torbay Harbour, Outer Cove, and Middle Cove).
Wind and Weather————————————————————————
Here are a few basics. First, the ice along the section of the Newfoundland Coast of greatest concern is primarily affected by the wind, followed by some local currents which are tidal and not very strong. Second, the thicker the ice, the slower it will respond to the force of the wind or the currents. Third, once the ice is moving, if the wind forcing ends it can continue to move for a long while before the water slows it down, or it impacts the shoreline, or it moves into other ice. The latter two cases will increase ice pressure within the ice or on the shore. Fourth and critical to this event, when forced by the wind, ice will tend to move about 20-30 degrees to the right of the wind. So to get the ice moving east along the Northeast Coast, you need a southwest wind. If you have a westerly or northwesterly, the ice will tend to move southeast or south and into the coast, thus aggravating the ice pressure problem, and it may continue to block passage to the ports.
Unofficial Forecast: This is primarily based on the Canadian Global model and the United State GFS model. Also, the further into the future the greater the uncertainty of the forecast.
- Sunday: A low pressure centre passing east of Newfoundland will give strong Northwesterlies to the pack. For the Northeast Coast this means more ice pressure, especially along the shore. For the East Coast some ice will be driven south or south-southeast and will spread into some of the bays.
- Monday: A second low pressure system moving east across Labrador and into the Atlantic will give strong southwesterlies for a good part of the day. Late in the day this may loosen the ice and start some movement off the Northeast Coast and out of Bonavista Bay and some of the bays further south. But the ice field may not open up enough to try to make port without escorts.
- Tuesday: A third low from the Gulf of St. Lawrence will approach Newfoundland, giving another period of southwesterlies, which should continue to improve the situation.
- Wednesday: In the wake of the third low it looks like west to northwest winds, which aren’t ideal. If most of the ice hasn’t moved far enough to the east it could be trapped on the eastern side of the Northeast Coast (i.e. New World Island, Fogo, Twillingate). But Bonavista Bay could be mostly clear by this time, and maybe the ice could clear the coast before heading southeast. However, the winds could be more southwesterly.
- Thursday: The low persists in the Labrador sea, giving moderate to strong west to southwesterlies. If it is mostly southwesterlies it will help a little more.
- Beyond that….
Main Message: Late Tuesday and Wednesday are the best chance to move the ice offshore, and to then allow the longliners to make it through the ice to their harbours (but they’ll almost certainly need Coast Guard icebreaker assistance to escort them through the pack). After that period, the forecast guidance indicates westerly or southwesterly winds; the more southwesterly it is, the better for boats with home ports on the Northeast Coast. The Ease Coast situation looks better, except for some west facing harbours in the main bays. Hopefully many boats will be going home by Thursday.
Implications for the sealing fleet——————————————————
Damaged boats: This is one of the first problems the Coast Guard will have. There are numerous damaged boats, some with hull damage, others with propeller damage, and many have been pushed up on the ice. With the new ice pressure warnings, other boats may become damaged. As ice pressure eases prior to the ice moving away from the coast, some of these boats may be found in a sinking condition, while others may be unable to maneuvre away from danger. If this happens to more than a few, the Coast Guard may have too many emergencies to handle in a short time.
Supplies and Fuel: Currently there is some relief with food supplies transported via helicopter to those shortest on supplies. But many of the boats have been out there for over twelve days, and many may have to wait until late this week before making it home. Fuel is also running low, and those boats that run out will either need to be towed or to get more fuel from other vessels. Finally, whether they’re in the ice or not, if they’re out of fuel they can’t move to avoid future threats.
Home ports: Historically, and to an extent currently, most Newfoundland sealers come from Trinity Bay, Bonavista Bay, much of the Northeast Coast, and Southern Labrador. The ports least likely to open up to shipping in the near future are those on the eastern side of the Northeast Coast and Fogo Island, particularly those harbours facing west to north. This is also were Coast Guard efforts are currently centred. There may also be problems on the eastern sides of Bonavista and Trinity Bays, but the western sides should open up earlier. The strait of Belle Isle is also tricky, but the South Labrador coast will have ice blown offshore for much of the week.
Penetrating the ice: Currently the ice is blocking most ports from Trinity Bay to Labrador. Even if the ice starts moving northeast or east, it may stay as a single almost solid field for a while; the longliners will only be able to get through to the coast on their own if large and hopefully safe leads open up. It is more likely that small groups will follow icebreakers through the ice. I think there are three breakers from the Newfoundland fleet and one from the Quebec fleet. I would guess that each would need to take multiple round trips. However, currently the forecast guidance indicates that through next weekend the field will become more and more disorganised. The worst difficulties will probably be on eastern sections of the Northeast Coast, the Strait of Belle Isle due to the narrow channel, and possibly Southern Labrador due to greater ice thickness.
I’m very impressed by the efforts of the Coast Guard, the level of common sense I’ve heard from some of the skippers, and the willingness of some crews and skippers to let boats and people to be rescued in the face of great personal and financial losses. Currently I’ve heard of about 52 people being rescued, and of at least 5 vessels being abandoned in order to keep the crews out of danger. Also, so far no one has been put into a life or death situation.
Given the good chance to break up the pack ice this week, we may come out of this with no fatalities, and with a minimum of boats destroyed. The question of why this happened and how we prevent it in the future should be the first and paramount concern of both the provincial and federal governments before next spring.
But first, let’s get them home.
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