CLEVELAND — The Coast Guard is warning that warmer temperatures predicted to overtake the Great Lakes region beginning Friday could pose safety concerns for those planning to recreate on or near ice or cold water.
Unseasonably warm air temperatures will cause frozen waters to melt at an alarming rate and may cause misperceptions about Great Lakes water temperatures, which will remain dangerously cold, posing safety concerns for anyone venturing onto the lakes.
Ice is unpredictable and the thickness can vary, even in small areas. Warm temperatures and currents, particularly around narrow spots, bridges, inlets and outlets, are always suspect for thin ice. Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and darker areas since these signify thinner ice. In addition, ice near shore of a frozen lake may be unsafe and weaker because of shifting, expansion, wind and sunlight reflecting from the bottom.
- Before you head out onto the ice or onto the water, make sure you take the necessary precautions that could save your life:
- Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. A life jacket allows a person to float with a minimum of energy expended and allows the person to assume the Heat Escape Lessening Position by bringing the knees close to the chest and holding them in place by wrapping the arms around the shin portions of the legs.
- Dress for the water temperature not the air temperature. Don’t let warm temperatures deceive you. Wear a dry suit in any cold-water environment to increase the chance of surviving a fall into the water.
- Hypothermia is the biggest danger after falling into the water, even if one manages to get out immediately. Every minute counts in a cold water environment. Hypothermia sets in quickly as the human body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees (35 degrees C). Preparation may mean the difference between a life saved or a body recovered. Cold water drains a body’s heat up to 25 times faster than cold air.
- Dress in bright colors, wear reflective clothing, patches, or tape, and wear an exposure suit that is waterproof. The chance of locating a person in distress is increased when the individual wears bright and reflective clothing.
- Never go out on the water alone; always use the buddy system.
- Carry a registered personal locator beacon in addition to a marine radio to alert the Coast Guard and local safety agencies of potential distress. Consider a waterproof hand-held model that can be worn.
- Carry safety devices such as visual distress signals, a sound-producing device, or screwdrivers or hand picks that can be used to pull yourself out of the water if you fall through the ice.
- Always tell family and friends where you are going and when you expect to be back. Stick to the plan and notify them when plans change.
The Coast Guard urges everyone to use common sense and reminds people who venture out onto melting and weakening ice that they are not only putting their own lives in danger, but the lives of first responders.