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Does Team Illinois have an advantage in the Tug Fest? Here's what an expert found

Team Iowa claims the river's current favors Team Illinois, which is why it hasn't won Tug Fest in 10 years. Here's what a hydrologist had to say.

LE CLAIRE, Iowa — The future of the Tug Fest is still up in the air as the two sides of the river debate whether or not Illinois has a natural advantage in the annual interstate competition.

"We haven't won within the last decade, even once, in LeClaire. So something needs to change there. A lot of us believe it's the current," LeClaire Tug Fest Assistant PR Director Brandon Smith said.

Team Illinois begs to differ, claiming the Mississippi River's current is a non-issue in how it's been able to win 10 straight Tug Fest titles. Port Byron Tug Fest President Tammy Knapp said Team Illinois's rigorous training schedule is on a different level than Team Iowa's.

Team Iowa is threatening to boycott the 35-year-old tradition and hold their own land-based tug-o-war event unless the playing field is evened out.

"Iowa wants all of the Illinois teams to pull in Iowa and all of the Iowa teams to pull in Illinois," Knapp said.

So News 8 investigated Team Iowa's claim by going to the National Weather Service Quad Cities to ask a scientific expert in the study of water — a hydrologist.

"So, if I'm pulling against myself, and I'm standing in LeClaire, and the other me is standing in Port Byron, and we're both equally strong because it's me. I should be moving towards the river," National Weather Service Quad Cities Hydrologist Matthew Wilson said.

Credit: WQAD
Matthew Wilson creates a diagram of how the water current moves between Port Byron and LeClaire at the southeastern bend. The blue line represents the current at the deepest part of the Mississippi River. The red rectangle represents the line being tugged on.

In other words, Team Iowa could be correct in that Team Illinois might have a slight advantage when pulling because of the direction the current flows around the bend between LeClaire and Port Byron.

"Leading up to the bend, the current is going to shift slightly from going straight down, to shift so that it can move around that bend and it will shift and pull toward that outside."

He explained that vectors and forces pulling the water around the bend cause this shift and that the current is only affected this way at its deepest point in the river, even if the surface of the river from our perspective looks to be flowing in a different direction.

Wilson says he'd have to do numerous experiments to make a conclusive finding. 

"This is what is typically happening every year, but every year is a roll of the dice for new conditions in the river."

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