One of the greatest downsides to shipping on the Great Lakes and on rivers in the United States is the danger of seasonal changes. Think of railroads and trucking: there are several alternative routes that can be taken if there are ice storms or some other form of natural disasters. For intracontinental shipping lanes along rivers and in the locks that are essential to the Great Lakes, the winter months can be treacherous forms of shipping.
Inbound Logistics’ Trends page from February 2012 claims, “…shipping season officially closed at the end of the year when locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway were “locked” for the winter.” They go on to detail an interesting perspective on global warming that could actually be something positive. They say that with milder winters as a result of higher temperatures (think this most recent winter!), less ice will make navigating these northern rivers and locks easier and the “closed” season longer, increasing profitability. It also increases the availability and dependability measures of using the Great Lakes year round.
This video below shows just how treacherous using Great Lakes can be during the winter months when the lakes are experiencing freezing conditions.
Ultimately, there are still many risks involved of converting to the use of these shipping lanes. The uncertainty of the Great Lakes and the climate, as well as the weather, surrounding them will pose challenges to their viability for the foreseeable future.