As Winter Rolls In, Ice Safety Urged

The safety of the ice on ponds, lakes and streams is a concern every winter, even after sufficient cold weather has brought fairly thick ice, because a thaw, rain, or the currents under the ice can weaken the ice and make it unsafe for people and vehicles.

As of Monday, the current winter has not had sufficient cold weather to produce ice on area ponds and lakes that can be considered safe. Some smaller ponds, such the edges of Hood Pond, have a skim of ice but the larger bodies of water, such as Beaver Lake, still have only patches of skim ice, with lots of open water visible.

Local fire departments don’t put out warnings on ice safety but all agree on basic ice safety tips. Even after the ice has had time to thicken with after cold temperatures, people need to remember that just because one spot appears safe, that doesn’t mean the entire surface is safe.

The ice’s thickness is affected by currents and wind, especially near inlets and outlets. Skaters and those clearing areas for a skating rink should remain close to shore so that should someone fall through, they won’t be in water over their head.

Derry Fire Chief Michael Gagnon said bluntly, “No ice is safe ice. Extreme caution should be used at all times, especially around the places where water enters or leaves area ponds and lakes. Moving water takes longer to freeze to the 4-inch thickness that is typically considered reasonably safe.”

He reminded people of the two young boys who last November fell through the ice at Hood Pond after they left the edge of the pond where they were playing hockey to chase down their puck.

“We were able to rescue them but it was extremely close,” he said.

“Another area of concern is people who go out on the ice to rescue a pet that has fallen through,” Gagnon said. “Instead of trying to get their pet themselves, people should call the Fire Department immediately. We have the equipment to effect a rescue safely, and all too often when people try to rescue a pet, they themselves fall through and end up needing to be rescued.”

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department states that it is not advisable to drive vehicles onto the ice. However, for those who do this regardless, they recommend a minimum of 6 inches of ice thickness for individual foot travel, based on information from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, and a minimum of 8 to 10 inches of hard ice for snow machines or All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs).

They urge people to stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy and to watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots. The Fish and Game “Safety on the Ice” tips note that small bodies of water tend to freeze more thickly, while rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weakens the ice. And finally, they emphasize that people should not gather in large groups or drive large, heavy vehicles onto the ice.

The Fish and Game Department puts out a brochure, “Safety on Ice,” which includes more tips, such as always go ice fishing with a buddy; don’t build a fire on the ice; bring blankets and a first-aid kit; dress in layers and wear a hat, remembering that a waterproof and windproof top layer is ideal for keeping the elements at bay. Wool, silk and fleece are great insulators even if wet. And people should always bring gloves or mittens, sunglasses, insulated waterproof boots, extra clothing and food and hot drinks.

Other safety suggestions are:

• Never go onto the ice alone.

• Always keep pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue it; call 9-1-1 or go for help.

• New ice is usually stronger than old ice. As ice ages, the bond between the crystals decays, making it weaker, even if melting has not occurred.

• Beware of ice covered with snow. Snow can insulate ice and keep it strong, but can also insulate it to keep it from freezing. Snow can also hide cracks, weak and open ice.

• Slush is a danger sign, indicating that ice is no longer freezing from the bottom and can be weak or deteriorating.

• Ice formed over flowing water (rivers or lakes containing a large number of springs) is generally 15 percent weaker.

• Ice seldom freezes or thaws at a uniform rate. It can be one foot thick in one spot and only a few inches thick 10 feet away.

• Reach-Throw-Go. If a companion falls through the ice and you are unable to reach that person from shore, throw them something (rope, jumper cables, tree branch). If this does not work, go for help or call 9-1-1. Get medical assistance for the victim immediately.

• If you fall in, try not to panic. Turn toward the direction from which you came. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, working forward by kicking your feet. Once out, remain lying on the ice – do not stand – and roll away from the hole. Crawl back to your tracks, keeping your weight distributed until you return to solid ice.

• Leave your car or truck on shore.

• Leave information about your plans with someone – where you intend to fish and when you expect to return.

• Wear a personal floatation device and don’t fish alone.

• Always carry an ice spud or chisel to check ice as you proceed.

• Be extremely cautious crossing ice near river mouths, points of land, bridges, islands, and over reefs and springs. The current almost always causes ice to be thinner over these areas.

• Avoid going onto the ice if it has melted away from shore.

• Waves from open water can quickly break up large areas of ice. If you can see open water in the lake and the wind picks up, get off the ice.

• Bring a fully-charged cell phone.

• Carry a safety line that can be thrown to someone who has gone through the ice.

• Heated fishing shanties must have good ventilation to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Open a window or the door part way to allow in fresh air.

Two days of sub-freezing weather are not nearly enough to make ice on area ponds and lakes safe for people. A minimum of 4-inch-thick ice is needed.