U.S. Coast Guard urges public to use caution over weak lake ice

Weather Blog

Featured image above courtesy of Jackson Thomas in Webster

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – The U.S. Coast Guard sector in Buffalo is urging the public to use extreme caution over lake ice for both Lake Ontario and Erie as ice thickness continues to sit far below previous seasonal averages. Because of our already mild winter ice thickness over the lakes continues to remain unstable and unreliable despite the recent cold outbreak.

The combination of wind, high wave action, and slightly milder temperatures currently in play have resulted in a lot of the lake ice, specifically over Lake Ontario, to break apart into a slushy, broken up mess. With this in mind, the U.S. Coast Guard is advising the public, “not to venture onto the ice. Never assume the ice is safe, even if others are on it.”

Thy also recommend to take the proper safety precautions for those engaging in any recreational activities along the water in the cold weather. They advise to wear proper clothing to prevent hypothermia, wear bright colors to be easily seen by others in case of danger, and carry with you appropriate safety equipment such as:

  • Whistle or noise making device
  • Waterproof VHF-FM radio
  • Personal Locating Beacon
  • Ice awls, picks, or screwdrivers for self-ice-rescue

Hypothermia is the biggest danger when it comes to falling into cold waters, and becomes an immediate threat to anyone who falls through the ice even after you get out of the water. Hypothermia sets in when your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees, and can occur shortly after falling into cold water.

It only takes waters with temperatures in the 40s, even 50s to create a shock to the body when submerged. Currently, Lake Ontario surface temperatures are largely in the 40s while Lake Erie sits in the 30s.

It takes about one minute for your body to react to the initial “cold shock” of the water, which can slow you down, leave you incapacitated and unable to move. Hypothermia can then set in as early as 30 minutes to an hour, which makes it important to act as quickly as possible. Just last season there were multiple cases of people falling into unstable ice resulting in the loss of recreational equipment such as snowmobiles and ATV’s.

Lake Ice Concentration

As it stands now, the lake ice concentration has been reduced to virtually nothing across the southern edge of Lake Ontario. However, there are sections along the lakeshore where decent chunks of ice are still present. Lake Erie ice is a bit more plentiful, but the integrity of much of this ice remains questionable. Hence the advisement of always practicing caution whenever venturing out onto any ice where you’re not 100% sure how thick it really is.

Safe Ice Reminders

Temperatures over the next day or so will find their way above the freezing mark for a short time, and with warming temperatures comes melting snow and ice. Be sure to exercise caution when nearing the lake water as any ice still standing has the potential to break.

More cold air is on the way heading into this weekend that may bring some ice cover back to the Great Lakes, but knowing it’s safe to walk on remains essential to prevent you from falling into cold waters.

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

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