With all the recent coverage of the polar vortex, and frozen lighthouses, a lot more people are making the trek to the shore of Lake Michigan this winter. The lakeshore in winter is amazing - like an arctic mountain range seen from above. For those people who want to get a better look at the frozen lake, this looks like the perfect way to do it. However, what these people don't consider before venturing out onto the ice, is that this is perhaps one of the most dangerous things to do on the shore of Lake Michigan in winter.
The frozen mounds rise 15 or 20 feet above the surrounding surfaces. This is created by waves crashing into the floating ice that collects along the shore called shelf ice. Like a shelf, is not attached to the ground - in this case, it's floating on the surface of Lake Michigan. The ice certainly appears stable, and solid, yet this is deceiving. Cracks, thin spots, faults and holes are often intermixed with the mounds, and covered by drifted snow.
The pounding water undercuts the edges of the ice, and the underside is not consistant, but riddled with air pockets. These defects can lead directly to the 33 degree water below the ice, with no way of climbing back up. Not only is the water unbearably cold - It's difficult to breathe when your body is immersed in very cold water due to contracting muscles. Even worse, you may instinctively inhale or gasp when you hit the icy water, and drown. Once through the ice, it's completely dark, and chances are, you will be swept away from the hole by the moving water. Holes such as the one shown in the photo below, are often hidden by a thin layer of snow or ice.
The people shown in the photo above are probably 200 feet off shore on Lake Michigan, where the depth of the water could certainly exceed 8 feet. If they were to fall through the ice, they would have little or no way to escape without rescue assistance. Even falling off the edge into the water could prove fatal.
Please, no matter how tempting, do not venture on the ice.
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, January 07, 2014