EDITORIAL: Warning: Variable ice poses a danger

Article Audio:

All summer long, we urge people to be safe in the water.

To wear life vests when swimming and boating. To only swim to your abilities, to avoid areas where boats travel and to be careful of dangerous currents. We urge boaters to be mindful of swimmers and small boats and to drive slowly. Police routinely patrol lakes and waterways looking for drunk boaters and irresponsible drivers.

But water can be just as dangerous when it’s frozen as when it’s not.

And recreational users of lakes in the winter should be just as careful and take just as many precautions as they do during the summer.

We all got a deadly reminder of that on Thursday when a man driving a snowmobile with friends on Peck Lake in Fulton County broke through the ice and died. Another snowmobiler with him also went into the water, but survived.

We don’t know the exact circumstances behind the crash itself.

We do know that the ice in parts of the lake was about 11 inches thick, which most people would consider to be safe for most recreational activity, including snowmobiling. But ice in other areas of the lake wasn’t as thick. Thursday’s accident happened near a stream, where running water helped undermine the thickness of the ice. There also was open water in the area.

Riding at night, as these snowmobilers were, would make it difficult to discern between the thicker ice and the thinner ice, or maybe to even see the open water ahead until it was too late.

Just a week ago, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a warning to ice fishermen and snowmobilers about the general condition of the ice in the area, saying that the wide-ranging temperatures and weather conditions from bitter cold to mild have made the thickness of ice surfaces unpredictable.

In general, 4 inches of clear ice is considered safe for ice fishing, according to the DEC. But factors such as the weather, streams feeding or exiting the waterway, and the areas around houses and boat docks (particularly where bubblers might be in use) can create unseen, dangerous conditions. A layer of snow can help hide the dangers.

You don’t have to be reckless or intoxicated to be in danger. The conditions themselves are enough to contribute to an accident.

Let this latest incident be a warning if you’re planning to go out on the ice this weekend and for the rest of the winter. Scope out the ice thickness in the entire area you might be using and note the areas where the ice might be thinner.

Better yet, ride your snowmobiles and ATVs on marked trails on the land, and do your fishing from shore.

No amount of fun is worth your life.

And there’s no guarantee that any ice is safe.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Leave a Reply