Beware of thin ice on lakes and ponds

Wednesday, December 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:33 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Warming temperatures this week have officials worried about ice safety. The ice might look thick, but no ice in Boone County is safe to walk or skate on now, according to Gale Blomenkamp, division specialist of the Boone County Fire Protection District.

During the last week in Columbia, Blomenkamp had to chase people off thin ice.

“With kids being out of school, many are wandering out onto the ice, but it is not safe this time of year,” Blomenkamp said.

Blomenkamp said there have not been any ice rescues this year, but there were two last year, both involving animals.

Each year in the United States, there are about 7,000 drownings and 20,000 near-drownings, with more than half occurring in cold water, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Water is considered cold if it is 70 degrees or less.

As of Tuesday, most area lakes and ponds have a thickness of 2 to 3 inches. For ice to be considered safe, it should be 4 to 6 inches thick, according to Blomenkamp. Temperatures in Columbia are expected to reach the upper 50s throughout the week, creating thinner and more dangerous ice.

Rivers are especially dangerous because river ice tends to be 15 percent weaker than pond or lake ice, according to the Fire Protection District. Snow-covered ice can also be dangerous because snow works as an insulator that can create weak spots. Snow also hides warning signs of weak ice.

Drowning is a concern, but hypothermia can be deadly as well. According to Michael Ohl, clinical instructor in family and internal medicine at University Hospital and Clinics, hypothermia can set in within minutes of falling through ice.

“Hypothermia can be caused by exposure to cold air and cold water. Water conducts heat more quickly,” Ohl said.

To prevent hypothermia, remove any wet clothes, cover yourself in blankets and get to someplace warm, Ohl said. But the best way to avoid hypothermia is to think ahead. According to Ohl, many accidents occur when the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which could increase the likelihood of hypothermia.

“Stay off the ice,” Ohl said. “A little bit of prevention can go a long way.”

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