Niagara Falls boat tours to break record for earliest opening due to mild winter

The Niagara Falls City Cruises boat tour has never opened as early as March.

The aftereffects of the winter that wasn't in the Northeast are continuing to reveal themselves, as another recreational activity opens early due to mild weather conditions.

The Niagara City Cruises, the famed boat tours that take tourists to the falls, is opening for the season on Thursday, the company announced.

The Maid Of The Mist cruise ship from a viewing platform outside The Tunnel at the Niagara Parks Power Station in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, July 10, 2022.
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The "historic" opening marks the earliest point in the year that the Niagara City Cruises has even begun operations, the company said, citing the mild winter weather.

The annual spring opening is largely dependent on the buildup of ice on Lake Erie over the winter, which has been "minimal" this year, with as little as 1% of the lake's surface currently covered in ice and water temperatures above freezing by the end of February, according to City Cruises.

On Feb. 13, near the peak of the ice season for the Great Lakes, the combined ice cover across the Great Lakes was a record low of 7.3% for that date, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario both saw very little ice all winter.

"While there have been some snowstorms and frigid stretches during this year's winter, overall, conditions have been favorable," City Cruises said.

Tourists ride the Hornblower cruise ship in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, Aug. 9, 2021.
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The ice boom that is installed where Lake Erie empties into the Niagara River has been removed early as a result, according to the tourism company. The boom reduces the risk of ice jams that can damage property and reduce the strong waterflow used to generate hydroelectricity.

The removal of the boom is a "key event" for the opening of the boat tours. Last year, the boom was removed on March 29 but the New York Power Authority and Ontario Power Generation began removing the boom on March 2 this year.

Long-term trends show an average 22% decline in the annual maximum ice cover across all the Great Lakes since 1973 despite year-to-year variability, according to NOAA.

More guests will be able to take advantage of recreational activities in the region due to the favorable conditions, City Cruises said.

"2023 is our comeback year, and we are excited to be able to welcome both locals and tourists alike to the iconic destination, and this year, be part of families March spring break to enjoy during their time here in the Niagara region," Mory DiMaurizio, chief operating officer of City Cruises in Canada, said in a statement.

It was a wet and mild winter for much of the U.S. during the 2022-2023 season. The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. this winter was 34.9 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 2.7 degrees above average, the NOAA reported.

Buffalo, New York, tied for its 5th-warmest winter on record.

Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat at the US side of the Niagara Falls New York.
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Other parts of the East Coast, including New York City, have had one of their least snowy seasons to date due to unseasonably warm temperatures throughout the region. Massachusetts had its warmest winter on record, while Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky had their second warmest winters.

The falls are not the only recreational activity to open early in the East. The iconic cherry blossoms that line the National Mall in Washington, D.C., are expected to reach full bloom status between March 22 and March 25 as a result of the city's third-warmest winter on record, according to the National Parks Service. The cherry blossoms typically reach full bloom in late March through early April.