We've had 20 below zero temperatures so the ice must be plenty thick for fishing, right?
Despite recent cold temperatures, Upper Peninsula Power Co. and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. officials are warning of thin ice near hydro electric facilities.
Ice that forms near hydroelectric dams and adjacent reservoirs is often thin, unsafe and inconsistent, officials said.
This is because of continually changing water flows beneath the ice that forms. This is part of normal hydro dam operations.
"With recent cold snaps, folks are lulled into thinking ice should be thick and safe to be on," said to Virgil Schlorke, Manager of Regional Generation for UPPCO of Ishpeming.
"That may be the case on standing bodies of water, but not the case near hydro-electric facilities," he said. "Water below the ice continues to flow at a rapid pace not allowing the ice to thicken."
"We have ropes, barriers and signs warning of thin ice," adds Bill Bosacki, Superintendent of Regional Generation for Wisconsin Public Service of Green Bay, Wis. "However, we have evidence showing some ice fisherman have been inside the safety zone."
This warning is for areas above and below the dams, as well as at adjacent reservoirs.
UPPCO owns and operates seven hydroelectric dams and four storage reservoirs. They are located in the Upper Peninsula along the Dead River, Escanaba, Ontonagon and Sturgeon rivers.
Wisconsin Public Service owns and operates 15 hydroelectric dams on the Wisconsin, Peshtigo, Menominee and Tomahawk Rivers in northeastern Wisconsin and the U.P.
WPS also owns much of the land near its hydroelectric dams.
"We take pride in operating our facilities safely and in a manner that respects the environment and the rights of other users of the waterways. Your safety is important to us," added Bosacki.
Safety experts offer the following tips to ice fishermen, snowmobilers, ice skaters, or anyone else who goes out on the ice:
- Never go alone.
- Test the ice with a spud every few feet. The thickness can change in that short of a space.
- Wear a life preserver or float coat.
- Attach a 20-25-foot long rope to your waist and let it drag behind you. It won't interfere and it's something someone can grab should you fall through.
Because ice seldom freezes at the same rate in the same body of water, it is not uniformly thick. Ice can be one foot thick in one location and only one inch thick just 10 feet away, experts say.
New ice is usually stronger than old ice, and grows thicker and stronger during formation.
But as ice decays, and many factors can cause this, it becomes unsafe even though it may appear thick.
Some of the factors which can cause ice deterioration are:
- Weather: Spells of warmer, then colder temperatures as we've had lately, can cause melting and refreezing, weakening the ice.
- Underground springs: Many area lakes are spring fed; entrances of streams and dams can also cause the ice to be unstable in those locations.
- A thick blanket of snow. This can actually insulate the surface against freezing, causing the ice to form more slowly or even deteriorate.
If you do break through the ice, there are some things you can do to avoid serious injury or death.
First, try not to panic and thrash about. The air trapped in your clothing will help you float. This is more difficult than it seems.
Once a person is suddenly immersed in freezing water, their respiratory system will automatically and instantly have an uncontrollable inhaling gasp reflex because of the cold shock.
If initially under the water, individuals will inhale water into their lungs.
It is extremely critical to get your head above the surface and first get your breathing under control, which will take at least one minute.
If you do not control your breathing, the chances of drowning sooner are exponentially increased.
Once you have your breathing under control, yell for help, and turn toward the direction from which you came. The ice is likely to be stronger there. You know that ice held your weight at one point.
Place your arms on the edge of the solid ice. Keys, a pocket knife, ice pick, or a belt buckle, will help you grip the ice. You may want to carry a few large nails in an outside coat pocket for this purpose.
Use your arms to lift your body up and kick your feet hard in a swimming motion while leaning over the good ice. If the ice breaks, don't give up. Move forward and try again.
Get your upper body up onto the solid ice and roll away from the open water.
When you're out, do not stand up, but roll away from the break and stand only when you've reached solid ice.
Go to a place of shelter and warm up immediately.
If you are attempting to rescue someone else who has fallen through the ice, follow these steps:
- Stay calm. Don't walk or run to the edge of the breakthrough or risk becoming a victim, too.
- Throw the victim a rope, or slide a long ladder, pole or sturdy branch. Always lie on your stomach and push the object out in front of you.
- If there are other people available, form a chain by lying flat on your stomach and gripping the ankles of the person in front of you.
Once you have pulled the person from the water, seek shelter and try and warm them and seek medical assistance.
Use extreme caution on the ice.