Devil’s blanket may be one reason for unusually high number of recent ice rescues

d9CLEVELAND — Rescues in Saginaw Bay, Michigan, Sunday evening and Lake Erie Monday morning are the latest in an alarmingly high number of Great Lakes ice rescues since Saturday, prompting a Coast Guard reminder of the risk of venturing out onto the ice and of the importance of taking appropriate safety precautions.

Throughout the weekend the Coast Guard, good Samaritans and the Bay County, Michigan Fire Department rescued eight and assisted six people across the lakes, an unusually high number attributed in part to a milder winter and environmental conditions like “the devil’s blanket.”

“My ice rescue crews spend more time on the frozen Saginaw Bay than anyone, and every one of us has learned that ice conditions are unpredictable,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Terry W. Lathrop, officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Saginaw, home of the National Ice Rescue School. “One thing we can say with certainty is that the ice will almost never be as thick as it was last year, so don’t go out expecting 30 inches of ice.”

Coast Guard rescuers believe that inaccurate expectations, along with heavy snow cover, contribute to the high number of rescues this weekend.

“Our nickname for heavy snow cover is the devil’s blanket, because it covers up visual signs of thin ice and also insulates the water and ice underneath, which prevents new ice from forming in cold temperatures.”

Other common reasons people find themselves in trouble on the ice are lack of familiarization with the area and a failure to check weather forecasts before going out.

Lathrop encourages people to remember the acronym “I.C.E.” when it comes to ice safety and when planning to venture out on the lakes. The acronym stands for Information, Clothing and Equipment:

Information – Check the weather and ice conditions; tell a friend of your intended destination; know who and how to call for help; be familiar with the area you plan to go, especially when going after dark or during inclement weather.

Clothing – Wear sufficient clothing, including a dry suit, to prevent hypothermia. Choose bright colors and reflective garments to aid searchers if you should end up needing help.

Equipment – Never venture onto the ice without proper safety equipment: a marine radio, a Personal Locator Beacon, a life jacket, a compass or GPS, and screw drivers or ice picks which may allow you to pull yourself out of the water should you break through.

The Coast Guard also encourages ice enthusiasts to reach out to local response agencies, snowmobile clubs and ice-fishing bait shops to inquire about ice conditions before heading out.

At about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, a 911 operator contacted search-and-rescue controllers at the Coast Guard Sector Detroit Command Center to report a disoriented man on Saginaw Bay in blizzard conditions. The man called 911 from his cell phone, allowing the dispatchers to determine his coordinates before losing communication with him.

The command center contacted Coast Guard Station Saginaw River, in Essexville, Michigan, to dispatch a rescue crew aboard a 20-foot rescue air boat.

The man managed to make another phone call to 911 after he had fallen through the ice and climbed back out. Dispatchers instructed him to turn on his flashlight, and though visibility was less than 1,000 yards, the light made it possible for the rescuers to find him, and they safely transported him to shore.

Below are brief summaries of weekend rescues.

Saturday morning good Samaritans assisted two people in Lost Peninsula Marina near Toledo, Ohio, after their snowmobiles fell through the ice.

Saturday night, the Bay County, Michigan, Fire Department rescued three people on Saginaw Bay near Linwood, Michigan, after their snowmobiles fell through the ice. Two of the rescued people were in good condition while the third was taken to McLaren Hospital in Mount Clemens, Michigan.

Just after midnight Sunday morning, a Coast Guard rescue crew from Coast Guard Station Toledo, Ohio, rescued two and assisted two others after their snowmobiles fell through the ice in North Maumee Bay.

Sunday night, two people were assisted to safety by a good Samaritan after they became lost in a snow storm on Lake Erie near Marblehead, Ohio.

Early Monday morning, a good Samaritan rescued a man who was lost on Lake Erie overnight near Catawba State Park, Ohio, after he became disoriented on the ice during a snow storm.

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