We’re getting the coldest snap of the winter so far right now (just in time to frost the daffodil buds!), so it seemed like a good time to share this. From the Boston Globe, a cautionary tale about the dangers of even small-scale climate shifts and the unconscious assumption that humanity has turned the whole world into an adventure park:
LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE, N.H. — Temperatures were in the single digits and a light snow was blowing as the sun rose over Meredith Bay, but the carnival atmosphere was already well underway on the frozen waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. Bob houses dotted the ice, filled with fishermen dropping their first lines of the derby, as thousands of spectators streamed onto the lake, gawking at the scene, surveying the catches, and visiting the many food vendors selling out of trucks parked out there with them.
It was Saturday, Feb. 11, opening day of the 38th annual Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby, a giant ice fishing competition that draws upward of 10,000 people to the state’s largest lake.
Everything looked postcard-perfect. But looks can be deceiving.
Down in Concord, where the state’s Fish and Game Department is headquartered, Colonel Kevin Jordan was worried. He’s the chief of law enforcement for a department whose mission includes search and rescue work, and he already had teams in place all around the lake, patrolling on snowmobiles and ATVs and trucks, doing their usual job of checking fishing licenses and making sure everyone was behaving.
But that wasn’t what had him uneasy that morning. It was the weather. He always worries about derby weekend, with so many people on the ice, but this year was different. It was, he knew, the “perfect storm of conditions for a disaster.”
It had been warm that Wednesday, a high of 47 degrees, and stretches of the lake had been open water. Then it got cold for a few days, enough to form a light layer of ice in those spots. And then came the real kicker — it had snowed just enough to cover those thin areas.
The ice in Meredith Bay, where the derby is headquartered, was plenty thick. It was the rest of the 28-mile-long lake he was worried about. The usual advisories had gone out, from his department and the derby organizers, warning people to use caution on the ice and never assume it is safe.
People would go through the ice. He knew that. It happens every year. Trucks. Snowmobiles. ATVs. Typically, people can get themselves out or rescuers can get to them in time.
What he did not know, what no one knew, was that Saturday morning was the beginning of the worst day in the history of Lake Winnipesaukee…
When the human body is plunged into icy water, it reacts quickly and severely. “For lack of a better term, the body freaks out,” said Dr. Stuart Harris, chief of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Division of Wilderness Medicine. “You get this dumping of adrenaline that causes your heart rate to go up, your blood pressure to go up, and most importantly, it triggers an involuntary gasping where you’re taking deep breaths involuntarily. If the head goes underwater, you can drown almost immediately.”
If you can survive the initial gasping and get breathing under control while keeping your head above water, then you have about 10 minutes of meaningful movement — to swim, to grasp things, to try to pull yourself up on the ice. After that, the ability to self-rescue diminishes rapidly. If you can’t get onto the ice in those 10 minutes, or at least secure yourself to some means of flotation, you have about an hour before multisystem organ failure and death.
“If you don’t have someone coming to rescue you right away,” Harris said, “or you
haven’t made preparations beforehand to keep from getting into trouble, it is unlikely that you’re going to get out alive.”…
It’s a bit chilly here in Houston, since we just had a front come through, but I’m still going barefoot in shorts. Very mild winter this year.
@Keith P.: PS Editing comments is broken (get an empty box, changes don’t show up)
This weekend is the coldest it has been all winter, here in NJ.
I hope we have a Spring season this year. The last few years has gone from winter, to some chillier than normal temps in April and May and then straight to summer.
Everyone knows the weather is not normal anymore, compared to when they were kids. People are just unwilling to put it all together.
Well, what happened in NH is tragic. I think people need to exercise caution. Falling through ice into a lake is dangerous, therefore staying off frozen lake is a good idea.
And who ever thought to turn a frozen lake into a festival is nuts.
The ‘Live Free or Die Trying’ state needs all the tourist revenue it can scam — I mean, promote — because of their devout belief that Taxes Is Theft. To be fair, up until very recently, the fact that lakes would be frozen in February was a sound scientific bet; nobody could have predicted that AGCC would change things so quickly.
I’m not thinking of this for the lulz, but someone has to write a song for this. It has “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” vibes all over it.
@gene108: Not nuts at all. That’s like saying it is nuts to hold festivals outside in the summer even though it occasionally gets dangerously hot or there are sometimes deadly thunderstorms. But you do have to assess conditions.
I frequently do as well, though it’s inconsistent. Sometimes I get the full editable box, but often I don’t, and have to hand-code any of WordPress’s nonstandard version HTML (why in HELL can’t they just use conventional HTML syntax, instead of their own bastard variant?) Fortunately, the one I can’t easily do without, “blockquote” bracketed by ”, I can easily remember.
Gin & Tonic
When I was a kid the Great South Bay (Long Island, NY) would freeze more years than not. My friend and I would ride our bikes across. That’s salt water. Have no idea when was the last time it froze.
Here in the central Piedmont region of North Carolina, we have only had one solid week of real winter – with an inch of sleet overlaid by another inch of snow that lasted for three of those days before beginning to quickly melt off. Other than that, we’ve only had maybe a half-dozen nights with temps below 30F – this in an area where heretofore, the average low was around 30 degrees from mid-December through mid-February. We’ve had more April-warm winter days (temps in the mid-60s to mid-70s) than I can ever remember. It’s as if our climate has suddenly shifted to that which was formerly typical of inland areas 300 or more miles to our south.
A Ghost to Most
Spectacular day here in Denver – near 70, sunny, and only a hint of the chinook winds. Got two filthy vehicles washed.
The traditions of going out on the ice mostly worked OK for locals who knew that body of water and lived there with a sense of all the little variables. How many days in a row it has to be below a certain temp in order for the ice to get thick enough in the spot they wanted to go. Where the outlet is on the lake, because there’s a little current so the ice is always thinner. How off of some point there’s a little spring flowing up underneath, so the water there stays warmer. That snow falling one day will make the ice warm up in that spot the next.
They would cut holes in the ice to measure the thickness before they went too far out. And only move further out as the deep freeze in the winter went on longer, after they cut more holes.
The traditions don’t work when there aren’t enough people left in town who’ve learned that understanding. The people who came for recreation used to rely on the people who lived their lives there to tell them what was OK, but I think possibly we don’t like to ask and follow that kind of advice so much any more.
Here in Sacramento, the camelias are staring to burst into bloom and flowering trees are a welcome sight against a grey sky full of elephant shaped clouds heavy with rain.
It’s a soft day, fixing to rain.
The most fun: Last Wednesday, my bone cancerous best friend decided to walk across the street to the river and walk onto the ice. Mind you, it was 50 degrees and we had an open channel on the river. Only the banks were frozen. I didn’t know she had wandered over there. Next thing I know, the fire alarm goes off. I go charging for the fire station, jump in the truck, we go approximately 1/8th of a mile in the opposite direction from my house, and there’s my dog hanging desperately onto the ice ledge without being able to lift herself out. I freak out, grab the rope from the fire truck and go charging. Tied the rope around me, crawled to the edge of the ice on my belly. Grab my girl by her armpits, (the cancer is in one of her knees) and pull her up. We both go through the ice. I repeat this about 4 times until we’re finally at shore thanks to my fellow firefighters dragging me with the rope. Again, 50 degrees outside, so not so bad. But the water was certainly freezing, my dog was definitely tired of being in it, and I never want to swim in February in Northern New York ever again.
@Eric NNY: Glad your girl and you are both okay, after that!
@Eric NNY: That was courageous.
A few years ago I went to the park and a dog was in the icy river. I was calling for help just as fire dept rescue arrived. The dog was saved. When I thanked them they told me, This happens a lot. The dogs get used to walking on the ice and fall through when it warms up. We always come out for them; it’s rescue training for us.