- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - This year’s shipping season is underway on the Mississippi River, an earlier-than-average start buoyed by warmer temperatures and reduced snowfall.

The first tow to arrive at Lock and Dam 2 near Hastings is the unofficial start of the navigation season because it means all of the locks are accessible to commercial and recreational boats. The Robert Wagonblast locked through on Sunday, pushing 12 barges en route to St. Paul.

It may be an early start to the season, but it’s not a record. The earliest date for a tow to reach Lock and Dam 2 was March 4 in 1983, 1984 and 2000. Winona Daily News (https://bit.ly/1Uw89Zr ) reports the average start date for shipping season is March 22.

The Mississippi River level isn’t expected to change significantly in the near future, according to the National Weather Service.

The flood outlook for this spring is well below normal, the weather service said. The snow that fell this month has already melted and seeped into the soil or traveled downstream.

Dan Jones, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said the flood potential now is only tied to whether or not there is a severe weather event this spring.

“We’ve melted off all our snow,” Jones said. “So now what we’d be looking for is some sort of heavy rainfall.”

The Winona area is expected to see rain most of the week, with a chance of thunderstorms Tuesday night, but total precipitation is expected to be less than two inches.

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