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Strong Midwest storm halts vessels, slows crop harvest

10/26/2010 @ 1:54pm

An autumn storm bore down on the U.S. Great Lakes Tuesday, restricting commodity transportation and slowing crop harvests.

An intense surface low centered over Minnesota was producing rain from Canada to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico at midday, after halting fall grain harvest with overnight downpours across the Midwest. The storm is one of the strongest to strike the Midwest in decades, drawing comparisons to one that occurred on November 1998, generating wind gusts of up to 90 miles per hour.

The National Weather Service placed parts of 12 states including Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin under high wind warnings. The agency predicted wind gusts of up to 60 mph through Wednesday, which could cause damage and yield losses to unharvested crops.

Gale warnings and storm warnings are in effect for the entire Great Lakes system through Wednesday. Forecasts warn of waves topping 22 to 27 feet on Lake Superior and 20 to 25 feet on Lake Michigan. The dangerous conditions caused most vessels already anchored to stay put and ride out the storm.

A range of commodities from grain to iron ore is shipped on the Great Lakes. Commodity movement on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System is up 20% year-to-date, from depressed 2009 levels.

"Vessel delays are expected at the various dock sites at Toledo (Ohio), due to the intense storm," said Jim Hoffman of Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping.

As for the ongoing U.S. harvest, the storm could affect crop yields as high winds caused so-called lodging, when corn stalks are knocked down making the grain more difficult to harvest. The government has reported 83% of the corn crop was harvested as of Sunday, up from 68% the prior week and well above the average of 49%. That leaves an estimated 13.8 million acres of corn yet to be picked in the U.S.

"Much of the remaining (crop) is in the northern Corn Belt, which is being buffeted by very high winds and rain this morning, reinforcing ideas that USDA is likely to trim yields down the road," said Bryce Knorr of Farm Futures.

Yet with most of the U.S. harvest completed, Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities in Des Moines, Iowa, said the effect of the storm on the total U.S. harvest should be minimal, with the likely result being delays rather than any real damage to the crop. He added farmers knew the storm was coming and likely picked up the pace of harvesting in recent days.

At the Chicago Board of Trade, corn for December delivery recently traded up 0.8% to $5.73 1/4 a bushel.

-By Gary Wulf; Dow Jones Newswires; gary.wulf@dowjones.com

(Andrew Johnson Jr. of Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this report.)

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 26, 2010 14:09 ET (18:09 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2010 Dow Jones Company, Inc.

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