2017-03-16 / News

Windstorm Stops Semi-trucks and Buses from Crossing Mackinac Bridge

Basketball Teams Get Creative When Wind Stops School Buses from Crossing
By Erich T. Doerr


The Clyde’s Drive-In on US-2 in St. Ignace is closed for the season right now, but that didn’t prevent it from becoming something of an impromptu truck stop Tuesday, March 7, when high winds caused a partial closure of the Mackinac Bridge. Parking lots throughout St. Ignace and Mackinaw City were filled with semi-trucks Tuesday as drivers waited for the bridge to reopen so they could cross between Michigan’s peninsulas. At least half a dozen semis laid up temporarily in Clyde’s parking lot, and many more in nearby lots, while sustained winds of more than 50 miles per hour prevented them from using the bridge. The Clyde’s Drive-In on US-2 in St. Ignace is closed for the season right now, but that didn’t prevent it from becoming something of an impromptu truck stop Tuesday, March 7, when high winds caused a partial closure of the Mackinac Bridge. Parking lots throughout St. Ignace and Mackinaw City were filled with semi-trucks Tuesday as drivers waited for the bridge to reopen so they could cross between Michigan’s peninsulas. At least half a dozen semis laid up temporarily in Clyde’s parking lot, and many more in nearby lots, while sustained winds of more than 50 miles per hour prevented them from using the bridge. A windstorm buffeted the Straits area for several days last week and caused almost 44 straight hours of escorts and partial closures at the Mackinac Bridge, from the morning of Tuesday, March 7, through the early morning hours of Thursday, March 9. The partial closure stopped buses and semi-trucks from crossing the bridge, forcing them to park in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City to wait out the weather. Meanwhile, schools had to make new arrangements for teams travelling to basketball games Tuesday. Despite the delays, the wind caused no incidents at the bridge.


Mackinac Bridge Authority crews (right) were out on Interstate 75 at both ends of the bridge Tuesday, March 7, as high winds with gusts up to 87 miles per hour put the bridge into a partial closure for more than nine hours from 9 a.m. to just before 6:30 p.m. The closure meant high-profile vehicles such as semitrucks and vehicles pulling trailers were not allowed to cross the bridge, leading some to park on the shoulder of I-75 to wait out the closure (left), while smaller vehicles such as cars and SUVs were allowed to continue their journeys unimpeded, as shown here. Mackinac Bridge Authority crews (right) were out on Interstate 75 at both ends of the bridge Tuesday, March 7, as high winds with gusts up to 87 miles per hour put the bridge into a partial closure for more than nine hours from 9 a.m. to just before 6:30 p.m. The closure meant high-profile vehicles such as semitrucks and vehicles pulling trailers were not allowed to cross the bridge, leading some to park on the shoulder of I-75 to wait out the closure (left), while smaller vehicles such as cars and SUVs were allowed to continue their journeys unimpeded, as shown here. Dean Steiner, the bridge services manager for the Mackinac Bridge Authority, said the bridge enters escort mode if sustained winds reach above 35 miles an hour and partial closure when they reach 50 miles per hour. As winds picked up Tuesday morning, the bridge briefly went into escort mode before a partial closure began at 9 a.m. It continued for more than nine hours before wind speeds decreased enough to revert back to escort mode at 6:28 p.m. The escort process continued through the night until wind speeds increased again and the bridge reverted to a partial closure at 9:05 a.m. Wednesday, March 8. The closure was short, with the bridge going back into escort mode at 9:45 a.m. and remaining there for another 18 hours before decreasing wind speeds finally allowed the resumption of normal operations at 4 a.m. Thursday morning.

The winds Tuesday were the highest recorded at the bridge this year, with one gust reaching a speed of 87 miles per hour, more than 10 miles faster than the speed needed to be classified as hurricane force. Wednesday morning’s highest gust was recorded at 65 miles per hour. The bridge’s only other partial closure this year was January 10, when winds reached 68 miles per hour.

When the Mackinac Bridge enters a partial closure, all high-profile vehicles are prevented from crossing, including semi-trucks, buses, any vehicle pulling a trailer, pickup trucks with any sort of rear covering or items stored in their bed, or vehicles with anything attached to their roofs. Cars, vans, sport utility vehicles, and non-prohibited trucks may cross at a reduced speed. The bridge authority posts personnel on both sides of the bridge during partial closures to slow or reroute traffic as needed. A trio of digital highway information signs on highways near the bridge informed approaching travellers of conditions at the bridge, and the Michigan Department of Transportation posted messages on signs further away. Drivers are asked not to park and wait on the side of Interstate 75 during a partial closure, but Tuesday, a line of vehicles stretched back to the I-75 and US- 2 interchange. The reopening of the bridge was announced to all waiting drivers through the bridge’s informational radio station AM 1610 and its Web site, mackinacbridge.org. Mr. Steiner said the storm brought high winds but little snow, so visibility was clear.

With all bus traffic across the bridge stopped Tuesday, high school basketball teams travelling to the girls basketball regional playoffs had to find a way to cross the Straits of Mackinac. Marquette High School’s team was travelling south to Gaylord Tuesday when the closure prevented the charter bus from crossing the bridge. The Redettes called St. Ignace girls basketball coach Dorene Ingalls, who spread the word and helped organize local drivers to get them to the Lower Peninsula.

Sherry Cece, Doug Goudreau, and Carol Halberg used their minivans and SUVs to drive the team from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City Public Schools, where the students were transferred to Mackinaw City school vans which took them to Gaylord for the game. The Redettes were defeated Tuesday night by the Midland Dow Chargers, 59-36.

“They were very appreciative,” said Mrs. Cece of the Marquette team.

The wind also affected travel plans for the Engadine and Pickford girls basketball teams, which were scheduled to play Tuesday night at Pellston. Both schools had planned to use buses for the trip, but monitored the weather at the bridge and determined the busses probably wouldn’t be able to get across. Engadine Athletic Director Deb DeWyse said the school waited, hoping the winds would subside, but about 2 p.m., arrangements were made for players to travel with their parents in personal vehicles. The weather also forced Pickford to scuttle plans for a fan bus.

The efforts to get across the bridge paid off for the Eastern Upper Peninsula schools. Pickford defeated Hillman, 51-45, and Engadine eliminated Harbor Light Christian, 50-24. The teams would go on to play each other in the quarterfinals Thursday, March 9, at Negaunee, with Engadine defeating Pickford, 50-48, for the Class D regional title.

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