Warming temperatures, high number of ice-related emergencies prompt Coast Guard warning

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Vandenberg, an aviation maintenance technician at Air Station Traverse City, Michigan, conducts ice thickness sampling in Lake Superior near Whitefish Point, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. The ice depth samples gathered will allow the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard to plan ice breaking routes in support of the start of the shipping season. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex Major)

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Vandenberg conducts ice thickness sampling in Lake Superior near Whitefish Point, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex Major)

CLEVELAND — Due to a high number of ice rescue cases this year, the Coast Guard is urging people to stay away from and off of ice, and to remain at a safe distance from ice formations.

The above freezing-temperatures are melting and weakening ice at a dangerous and alarming rate, and will continue to pose safety concerns for anyone venturing onto ice or into ice formations and inland rivers, streams and ponds.

Currently for the 2014-2015 ice season, the Coast Guard has participated in 69 emergency cases involving people in distress on the ice. This shows an increase from the five year average of 68 emergencies per season since there are still about six weeks remaining before the end of this year’s season and March and April are traditionally the busiest months for ice rescue crews.

“With the prediction of warmer temperatures, there is a concern that people will be at risk for falling through the ice or becoming stranded on an ice floe,” said Capt. Eric Johnson, chief of the Coast Guard 9th District Incident Management Branch. “Ice enthusiasts in the Great Lakes are likely to see deteriorating ice conditions and are strongly recommended to take extra precautions with their safety.”

The Coast Guard and local agencies are reminding people who venture out onto melting and weakening ice that they are not only putting their own lives in danger, but the lives of first responders.

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.

Obstructions such as rocks, logs, vegetation and pilings affect the strength of ice. Shifting and expanding ice 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.

People walking their dogs should always keep them on a leash to prevent the pet from running out onto the ice or 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.

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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