There’s a certain logic that we as Canadians use around this time of year – it’s cold, therefore things freeze, which means we should play on it.
Not so fast.
Aileen Nauss, water safety technical associate for the Red Cross said when it comes to outdoor ice surfaces, it’s never that cut and dry.
“The ice has to be checked to make sure it’s thick enough,” said Nauss. “Right now the conditions in HRM are not favourable to good quality ice.”
Nauss said that although we may get freezing temperatures for a couple of days in a row, that’s often not enough to ensure a safe surface.
“Right now, no ponds or lakes are safe in HRM,” she said. “We’ve also had this layer of snow on the ice and so people think that the ice is freezing, but the snow is actually like a blanket, keeping the ice from freezing solid.”
It’s suggested that for one person to be skating in an area, the ice needs to be at least 15 cm thick, for a group 20 and snow machines, 25 cm. Nauss said the first indicator is a bit of a misnomer because no one should skate alone.
Skaters can measure the ice themselves by using an auger or other cutting tool. However, it’s often not enough to only check the immediate area, be sure to check around the entire area you’ll be using.
Although skaters should check the ice themselves, HRM evaluates ice thickness occasionally and posts results here - www.halifax.ca/real_property/ice/index.asp
So when might it be safe to go skating on our ponds and lakes?
“This is just a rule of thumb, but you should have temperatures of -10 Celsius or below, not counting wind chill because that does not affect the ice, for at least seven straight days,” Nauss said. “There are exceptions to that, for instance really shallow bodies of water will freeze much faster.”
Nauss said despite unsafe conditions, people are still on the water, which makes her concerned.
“I drive by a lake every day on my way to work, and I see people clearing it for use as a rink and I think ‘oh my God,’” she said. “My heart just sinks. There’s no way it’s safe.”
Roy Hollett is a deputy fire chief with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, who are often first responders when someone falls through the ice.
He said if someone is seen on any ice surface right now, you should call 911.
“Our approach to ice safety right now is, based on the weather conditions and the extreme fluctuations of temperatures, none of the ice is safe,” Hollett said.
If people are seen on the ice before the bodies of water are properly frozen, they are asked to leave the area immediately to prevent falling through.
“When they’re out there, not only are they putting themselves in danger, but also anyone who may need to rescue them,” Hollett said.
What happens when someone falls through the ice?
Roy Hollett, deputy fire chief, Halifax Regional Fire and Rescue:
“The most challenging thing for someone who has just witnesses someone go through the ice is to fight the instinct to go out and help them,” he said. “It’s very likely, unless you know what you’re doing, that if you go out to them we’ll have two people in the water when we get there.
"The best thing you can do is stay back and try to get that person to remain calm, the more they kick around, the faster they’ll exhaust themselves and lose body heat. When we get there, we have various ice rescue sleds, specialized suits, ladders and other equipment to go out and bring someone in.
“Depending on the situation, we may use a light ladder to spread the weight over the ice, crawl across the ice and help the person up. We also use various ropes, harnesses, so it depends on what the situation is, the conditions of the ice, how far out the person is and so forth, there’s no one set of rules.
“Once the person is on shore, the first thing we’re looking for is hypothermia. Paramedics will be on scene to take off the wet clothes, dry them off and slowly bring up their body temperature.”