Winter Ponds Can Be Dangerous

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Sometimes I find myself questioning if certain topics are worth talking about. Standing on thin ice would be one of those but in truth, it’s a very important thing to talk about.

The proof in this is the various news reports you see every winter, where people, pets, or even wildlife end up falling through the ice and either get rescued (which is a good thing, but there are risks to the rescuer’s too) or they end up freezing to death (and that’s just not a good outcome).

So with that in mind, here’s some helpful advice from the Penn State Extension service.

Always know the strength and thickness of the ice on the farm pond before doing any activity on the ice. Because ice is a complex formation no ice is completely safe. Newly frozen ice is typically stronger than old ice. Ice that has thawed and refrozen can be weak and potentially dangerous. Temperature, precipitation (e.g., snow, sleet, rain), age of ice, water depth, and water quality are all factors involved in the strength and thickness of ice. Just because ice may be several inches to a foot or more thick does not guarantee its strength.

Before attempting to cross a frozen pond, conduct an inspection to determine the ice’s thickness by drilling a hole through and chipping at the ice every 10 feet out from the shore. Examine the ice for thickness and color. High density ice is present if the ice comes off in chunks when it is being chipped. Low density and deteriorating ice is present when the ice comes off in flakes or thin layers. Inspect the ice conditions every time you go onto the ice because condition, strength, and stability of ice can change quickly depending on the temperature, weather, and sunlight. Ice that has been exposed to air temperatures above freezing (32 F) for six hours over a 24-hour period can rapidly lose strength and stability. The following table outlines the type of ice and its potential stability.

You’ll find a very useful reference table on the PSE site as well as some other safety tips (year round) that might really be helpful to you. The fact is, people and animals do drown in ponds every year, and unfortunately many of the victims are children.

But with the right mindset, training, and awareness, many of these tragedies can be avoided.

Disclaimer: No that is not me in the picture standing by the “thin ice” sign. Personally I wouldn’t do anything that crazy (or insert other word as required) and I hope this fellow remained above the water line. – MW

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