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Dangers of venturing out on frozen ponds and lakes

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. -- The single-digit temperatures which have made their way in to the Triad have prompted the freezing of ponds, lakes and even some rivers. However, while the ice may be beautiful, it poses some chilling dangers.

Experts say the ice is on our ponds and lakes is only about a half to three-quarters of an inch thick at most. In order to support even the smallest children, it needs to be upwards of two to three inches thick.

A chart posted by the Forsyth County EMS shows a breakdown of how thick the ice has to be to support certain amounts of weight. According to that chart, a cross-country skier could go on the ice when it’s three inches thick. At four inches, the ice is strong enough to support one two-hundred pound person and at five inches, it can support a single snowmobile.

In order to support a group of people, at an estimated weight of about 1,500 pounds, the ice needs to be a full seven inches thick, and to support a car, it needs to be eight inches thick.

At the Lewisville Fire Department, they have a Water Response Team trained to make cold-water rescues. David Kivett, assistant chief at the department, says the water in our lakes and ponds is currently about 33 degrees. If someone were to fall through the ice, he says, they could succumb to hypothermia in as little as 10 to 15 minutes.

According to Kivett, the average person loses their body temperature about 25 times faster in water than in air.

“So basically, as soon as you hit that water, you’re going to go from 98.6 down rapidly,” he said.

Kivett and his Water Response Team have cold water rescue suits made to keep them warm in cold water for about 15 minutes. In a rescue situation, they would suit up and tie a rope to said suits. They would then crawl out on the ice on all fours in an effort to spread out their weight. Once they reach a potential victim, they tie the rope around them.

“Then we’ve got a crew on land that’s going to pull both of them out of the hole and across the ice,” Kivett said.

That trip out on and back off the ice is the most dangerous time during a rescue, he added.

It’s important to note that, even if the ice is three or more inches thick in some spots, that may not necessarily be the case for the entire body of water. The ice around the shorelines will melt faster and be thinner, and the same goes for areas around objects protruding from the ice, including docks and fallen trees.

“Those are going to melt the ice around there, they’re called weaknesses or places for the ice to fail. So, a greater chance of somebody to fall through there,” Kivett said.

Experts also warn about the dangers of pets on the ice. Though they generally weigh less than humans, they also have the potential to fall through the ice. Kivett urges that, if an owner sees their pet venture out on the ice, not to follow them; especially if they fall through.