Friday, December 09, 2005

Thin Ice

The upper midwest has been held paralyzed by an artic blast for more than two weeks now, the temperature struggling to rise into the teens each day and rarely succeeding. Yes, it is definitely December, and unlike this time last year we even have snow. More than a foot of it. This does not, however, mean we have good ice.

As eager as people are to strap on the skates or slap a puck around, safety is of grave (and I mean that literally!) importance. What people seem to forget on a yearly basis is that, just because it's cold and there is snow on the ground, doesn't mean the ice on the lakes is safe. We're only into the first full week of December for Pete's sake, and it takes more than a week or two, even at below freezing temperatures, for large bodies of water such as the Wisconsin River or Lakes Monona and Mondota to freeze to a "safe" depth. Right now it's at a mere three inches, maybe four in some places; it needs to be six to eight to be considered safe.

Yet ice fisherman are already thronging to local lakes, like seals in search of elusive treasures swimming deep below the surface, miniature shanty towns springing up across the icey expanse. Others are impatient to strap on the skates, oblivious to signs and daily news reports warning that the ice is not yet safe.

And it should come as no surprise that there have already been many accidents and tragedies on the ice. November 25, the day after Thanksgiving, a father in Cedar lake, Wisconsin took his two young daughters out to a small pond for skating. The 9-yr-old fell through the ice and the father tried to save her. Neither survived. Just ten miles up the road that same day, a 12-yr-old boy riding an ATV crashed through the ice of another small pond. Though they were able to find him, he did not survive.

A Madison man who decided to cut across the ice of Monona Bay fell through the ice more than 100 yards from Brittingham Park on Monday morning. He was lucky as ice fisherman saw him go in. He was rescued after a 15-minute dip, treated and released. And just yesterday afternoon two fishermen took an icey plunge here on the Yahara River. They were also lucky -- saved, treated and released.

As Sheriff's Deputy Jim Opgenorth said after the drownings of November 25, people need to be careful -- esepcially early in the season when ice is more likely to be thin and weak, but it's always dangerous. "There is no such thing as safe ice," he said. "Does this mean we shouldn't enjoy outdoor sports? No. But any time you're on ice, you're at risk."

If you're going to venture out on the lakes or rivers early in the season, you need to be aware of your surroundings, as well as signs of weak or thin ice. Look for cracks and pooling water on the ice's surface. Dress appropriately, and carry something sharp to dig into the ice if you do fall in. And, above all else, don't go out on the ice alone. You have a greater chance of surviving if there is someone with you to get help.


Jana said...

Man, you are on a ROLL! *vbg*

I don't trust ice no matter how thick or thin it is...not that we've ever had enough cold to freeze any large bodies of water. But, we have had our share of ice storms in my day and let me tell you...I've busted my butt enough to be verrrry cautious about that slippery stuff. ;-)

Heather said...

Man, you are on a ROLL!

I was hoping you'd be impressed, LOL.

Driving or walking on ice is definitely no fun (and yes, I've slipped on it many times myself), but when it comes to other ice sports...skating gets my vote every time. Beats me why anyone would want to hover over a little hole in the ice all day waiting for some stupid fish to bite, but to each his own I guess.

Jana said...

LOL At least the don't have to worry about the mosquitos biting like in summer.

Heather said...

No, just a little frost bite. ;-D