The waning mild winter sets up a promising start to shipping season on Lake Superior, which begins this week.
The Mesabi Miner is scheduled to leave early Friday morning from the Duluth port, loaded with coal for Upper Michigan. Coal is the second-most common cargo shipped out of Duluth, behind iron ore.
Jim Sharrow, facilities manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, predicts a strong year.
"It has bright spots and then maybe some areas that aren't so bright, but we're expecting it to be a good year," Sharrow said. "Iron ore is maybe the brightest looking. The iron ore mines are basically operating at capacity right now.
The official opening of the Great Lakes Shipping season is marked March 25 when the locks are opened at Sault St. Marie at the southeastern tip of Lake Superior.
The ships benefit from the mild winter, Sharrow said.
"There's very little ice out there, which is unusual, and will be very, very nice for the beginning of the season," he said. "They'll have pretty easy going compared to an average year."
Port officials expect increased shipments of wind turbine components, and huge pieces of equipment, some weighing 500 tons, for oil sands development in northern Alberta, Canada.