Editorial: Ice might not be as solid as it looks

Lakes and waterways are dangerous places, particularly during a winter like the one we've been having
Frozen lakes have hidden dangers.
Frozen lakes have hidden dangers.

If you’re planning to go ice fishing or ride your snowmobile across a lake or river this weekend, here’s a little reminder of what happens to your body if you fall though the ice.

Right away, cold receptors in the skin cause immediate physiological responses. The first thing you do reflectively is gasp. If your head is above water, you suck in air. If it’s below, you suck in water, the first step toward drowning.

The next thing your body does within seconds is start to hyperventilate, sending your pulse and blood pressure soaring, making it difficult to breathe and causing you to panic.

In less than 3 minutes in less-than-40-degree water, you begin to lose control of your muscles. Body fluids congeal in the muscles, starting with your fingers, arms and legs.

The more difficulty you have moving your arms and legs, the more difficulty you’ll have grabbing a rope or climbing out of the water. You’ve got about 10 minutes.

If you’re wearing heavy winter clothing and it gets soaked, it will weigh you down and make your struggle even more difficult.

Less than 15 minutes in a frozen lake, you become totally exhausted and lose consciousness. If you haven’t summoned for help quickly by then, your chances of survival drop precipitously.

In 15 to 45 minutes, you’re probably dead.

After yesterday’s snowfall, it sure looks like winter out there. And lake surfaces that look solid can be anything but.

Even in the heart of the Adirondacks, where winter has been in force for the past few months — unlike in our area — the state Department of Environmental Conservation is urging snowmobilers and ice fishermen to exercise extreme caution.

In its backcountry report dated Thursday, the agency states that “due to periods of thaw and the lack of extremely cold temperatures, ice on ponds and lakes is thinner than usual.

“Slush or water may be present between the snow cover and the surface of the main layer of ice on lower elevation waters. Ice over moving water is thin and may have only recently formed.”

Two brothers from the Buffalo area found that out Saturday. While they were snowmobiling on Raquette Pond in Tupper Lake, they encountered open water and fell through the ice.

Their bodies were recovered Monday.

Early on Sunday morning, three men driving snowmobiles and a four-wheeler plunged through the ice on the Raquette River on the way to an ice-fishing contest.

A fourth rider with them managed to stop his snowmobile before he broke through. He got a rope and pulled the others to safety. One of the men’s wives said that even though her husband was only in the water a short time, he couldn’t even stand when he was pulled out.

Had the men not been able to warm up in the truck of someone who happened to be passing by, they might not have survived until an ambulance arrived, even after getting out of the water. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone see them go through the ice.

Winter is a great time to be outside. But lakes and waterways are dangerous places, particularly during a winter like the one we’ve been having. Please keep that in mind before you venture out.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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