Frozen lakes deceptive, safety officials warn PDF Print E-mail
Written by By LOUISE SPRING, Staff Writer   
Tuesday, January 05, 1999

Recent bone-chilling temperatures can be deceptive.

Any ice on area lakes isn't necessarily safe.

"Use common sense," said James King, director of Emergency Services in Clinton County. "Sometimes things do happen.

"We've been out to so many emergencies that put our services to work because the ice isn't safe."

Lake Champlain isn't anywhere near safe enough to trek on, King said.

"Be aware of weather conditions, and check the depth of any ice you're going on."

Some go out on the ice when it's only an inch thick and "a couple of hours later we're going out to get them."

King said up to a dozen rescues have to be done each winter because people think ice is safe to travel on.

Within minutes of falling through the ice, hypothermia begins to set in, clothes become watersoaked and carry you down, and normal swimming functions are greatly hampered, King said.

"If you do go in (the water), a lot of times you're not going to come out of it very well."

People should know the depth of water and the area they're going on because swift currents produce ice crusting.

A cellular phone could be a lifesaver, King added.

"I can't stress it enough that you be sure it's safe before you go on the ice.

"You could be putting our emergency personnel in danger themselves, and they don't need to be put in that kind of situation."

Art Brault, Cumberland Head Volunteer Fire Department Cold Water Rescue Team member, agreed.

"There's some ice in the bays, but not substantially enough to walk on. It's not safe at all."

He said ice should be checked for solidity, and anyone who ventures on the ice should carry "picks of life," which are retractable tools that help victims get themselves out of the water.

"With warm currents in the lake, people should stay off the ice for at least a month until we get some really cold weather."

Lake Champlain Ferries Dockmaster Mike Morrow, who deals daily with lake conditions, also said there is very little ice on Lake Champlain and most of that is in Plattsburgh Bay.

"This time of year we usually have problems with ice, but we're getting by. It's the ice and wind combination that really becomes a problem."

With Lake Champlain Ferries running 24 hours a day as of Monday, Morrow anticipates no obstacles to the schedule in the immediate future because of weather and lake conditions.

An exception to the "don't go out on the ice" rule is Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, which Village Mayor James Strack said is safe.

"We've done some measuring a week ago Saturday. The thinnest part was 5 inches."

Normally, about two weeks after Mirror Lake freezes, Lake Placid is considered safe.

"But there's a lot more springs there."

He said thawing and rain over the past weekend "didn't hurt the ice.

"I think it's frozen a lot more and probably made it stronger."

He said people should look for visible air holes in the ice before going on it. He also advised traveling with someone else when on lake ice.

Edward Woodard, chief of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, said his department advises against going out on ice — any ice.

"We have a mandate that no ice is safe ice, so we don't approve of anyone on the ice."

"We've had to pull too many people out too many times. It just hasn't been cold enough."

He said waterways appear to be frozen over, but "the rain settled on top so you don't know what the conditions are. It doesn't take much moving water to start thawing it out."

The seeming lack of snow doesn't deceive King when it comes to the upcoming spring flooding season, though.

"We always get spring flooding. There's a lot of ice in the tributaries right now.

"In my 18 years, I'd be extremely surprised if we got (no flooding.) It's not a guessing game in the North Country."



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