Coast Guard urges caution on, near ice as warmer temperatures return

Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay. U.S. Coast Guard photo by BM2 Tom WestfallMilwaukee — The Coast Guard is urging people to use extreme caution on and near waterways with the forecast for sustained, warmer temperatures beginning this weekend.

The above freezing-temperatures could pose safety concerns on Lake Michigan and inland rivers, streams and ponds that have become frozen during the past few weeks. Rising temperatures will cause recently-frozen waters to further melt and become weak.

Ice is unpredictable and the thickness can vary, even in small areas. Water currents, particularly around narrow spots, bridges, inlets and outlets, are always suspect for thin ice. Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and darker areas since these signify thinner ice.

Obstruction such as rocks, logs, vegetation and pilings affect the strength of ice. Heat from these obstructions slows ice formation. Ice shifting and expanding can create pressure cracks and ridges around the obstructions.

In addition, ice near the shore of a frozen lake may be unsafe and weaker because of shifting, expansion, and sunlight reflecting off the bottom.

The Coast Guard is also urging people to remain clear of shorelines, piers, jetties, rocks, walkways and jogging paths that may have become covered in layers of ice. Mother nature may have created winter wonderlands of interesting formations this winter, but people should not let their curiosities take a priority over safety.

People walking their dogs should always keep them on a leash to prevent the pet from falling or jumping into the water.

The 1-10-1 Principle: 1 minute – 10 minutes – 1 hour

Everyone who enters cold water doesn’t drown, but research shows that many drowning incidents may be the result of cold shock response and cold incapacitation. In cold water drowning situations, if you survive the first minute, the cold will soon rob your muscles of their strength and dexterity. Even strong swimmers can experience swim failure after a few minutes.

When a cold water drowning situation begins, a person has about one minute to gain control of their breathing and 10 minutes or less of meaningful movement and muscle control to get themselves out of the water. Severe hypothermia will set in within one hour, but without a life jacket, the victim is likely to drown before that occurs.

Cold Water Kills

The Coast Guard and water safety experts say public education and preparedness may help prevent cold water drowning deaths. In addition to understanding the physiological effects of cold water, people need to be aware that the initial shock of entering the cold water can cause panic and gasping resulting in a person inhaling large mounts of water.

“Ice can be very unpredictable. Be prepared, use the Buddy system and exercise caution while enjoying nature.” says Senior Chief Petty Office John Sehn, the officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Sturgeon Bay.

The Coast Guard’s 9th District, which includes Chicago and the surrounding Lake Michigan regions, has 39 stations, two air stations, and ten cutters designated, trained and equipped for ice rescue operations.

“Ice is very unpredictable and hard to tell if it is safe. Ice slowly decays and may appear thick when actually it is extremely brittle and unsafe.” said Chief Petty Officer Eric Hopperdietzel, the officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Milwaukee. “The only absolute in ice safety this time of the year is to stay off the ice completely.”

The public is advised to call 911 to report a person who has fallen through the ice or who is in distress in icy waters.

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