Crews from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers braved dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills as they ventured out onto the ice covering Lake Pepin Wednesday morning for an annual pre-spring ritual.

Their mission involved drilling about a dozen and a half holes into the ice to measure its thickness and condition as the agency prepares for the start of the 2015 shipping season on the Upper Mississippi River. They found the ice is up to 21 inches thick in several areas and that there are only a few areas on the lake where the ice has begun to soften.

Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t even bother to start checking the ice on Lake Pepin until the end of February when they found it was 32 inches thick near the south end of the lake.

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