Thin ice: stay off lakes and ponds
Although we have had a taste of real winter, and temperatures are dropping, it is way too soon to step out on any ice that appears to be covering area lakes and ponds. "Stay off of them," Lake Warden Ken Bailey would warn, year after year, trying to keep the public safe. It hits home hard today, with the news of possibly four snowmobilers disappearing into Rangley Lake, in western Maine.
Unfortunately, Maine loses snowmobilers and others on outdoor adventures each winter, especially when the snow falls and the temptation rises to go cross-country skiing or snowmobiling across ponds and lakes. But the world is only deceptively frozen and creates just the sort of conditions that would prompt Ken to call the media and say, please post a warning about dangerous conditions. Ken died July 10; yet, the lessons he taught us about water and winter safety are lifelong, and no one is forgetting them. He whispered in several ears today, most strongly to his wife, Sandy, who called in Ken's stead this evening to urge a general public safety message about thin ice. Here is what Ken would say about recent weather and its effects on ice, or lack thereof:
Snow is an insulator, and while it may cover open water and create the illusion of ice, it actually helps keep the water from freezing.
Early January in Maine is too early to have seen prolonged cold temperatures. That means the ice on lakes Chickawaukie, Megunticook and Swan, plus all the smaller ponds, remains unsafe. If there is any ice at all.
Sandy said that Megunticook Lake has much open water still, even though it is starting to freeze around Bog Bridge on Route 105, in Camden. The same warnings hold for Norton Pond, in Lincolnville, where the inlet and outlet are areas where the ice will be thin, or nonexistant.
Basic safety guidelines call for a minimum of two inches of solid blue ice all over and three to five inches for groups heading onto the ice, and only in single file. Ken said he would not go out on the ice unless there is a solid three inches of ice beneath his feet.
When we do have a spell of cold weather and the water bodies are freezing over, take a chisel or iron pipe and dig a test hole to test for thickness.
Do not go on the ice at night or alone, especially early in the season.
Even when lakes do freeze over, there are spots where underwater springs and brooks weaken the integrity of the ice.
Tips from the Maine Warden Service
General Ice Thickness Guidelines - For new, clear ice only
Two inches or or less, STAY OFF
Four inches: May allow ice fishing or other activities on foot
Five inches often allows for snowmobile or ATV travel (in single file, Ken would advise)
Eight to 12 inches of good ice with supports most cars or small pickups
Twelve to 15 inches of ice will likely hold a medium sized truck.
These thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.
What if someone else falls in?
If someone else falls through and you are the only one around to help? First, call 911 for help. There is a good chance someone near you may be carrying a cell phone.
Resist the urge to run up to the edge of the hole. This would most likely result in two victims in the water. Also, do not risk your life to attempt to save a pet or other animal.
Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go
PREACH - Shout to the victim to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.
REACH - If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder, or jumper cables to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over.
THROW - Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim. Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weakened by the cold to grasp it.
ROW - Find a light boat to push across the ice ahead of you. Push it to the edge of the hole, get into the boat and pull the victim in over the bow. It’s not a bad idea to attach some rope to the boat, so others can help pull you and the victim to safety.
GO - A nonprofessional should not go out on the ice to perform a rescue unless all other basic rescue techniques have been ruled out.
If the situation is too dangerous to perform the rescue, call 911 for help, keep reassuring the victim that help is on the way, and urge to fight to survive. Heroics by well-meaning but untrained rescuers sometimes result in two deaths.
New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly-formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially-thawed ice may not.
Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away.
Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges, and culverts. In addition, the ice on outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.
The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.
Booming and cracking ice isn’t necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.
Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.
If a car or truck plunges through the ice, the best time to escape is before it sinks, not after. It will stay afloat a few seconds to several minutes depending on the air tightness of the vehicle.
While the car is still afloat, the best escape hatches are the side windows since the doors may be held shut by the water pressure. If the windows are blocked, try to push the windshield or rear window out with your feet or shoulder.
A vehicle with its engine in the front will sink at a steep angle and may land on its roof if the water is 15 feet or deeper. As the car starts its final plunge to the bottom, water rapidly displaces the remaining air. An air bubble can stay in a submerged vehicle, but it is unlikely that it would remain by the time the car hits the bottom.
When the car is completely filled, the doors may be a little easier to open unless they are blocked by mud and silt. Remember, too, chances are that the car will be upside-down at this point! Add darkness and near freezing water, and your chances of escape have greatly diminished. This underscores the necessity of getting out of the car before it starts to sink!
The following guidelines can help you make wise choices:
Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop.
Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel or ice auger.
Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.
If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry, keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.
Stay away from alcoholic beverages.
Even "just a couple of beers" are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.
Don't "overdrive" your snowmobile's headlight.
At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.
Wear a life vest under your winter gear.
Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be home made or purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers. It's amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 pounds of water. The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice. CAUTION: Do NOT wear a flotation device when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle!
Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at lyndaclancy@PenBayPilot.com; 706-6657