Ice kills

January 22, 2003

THIS IS A CRY of caution on another morning when Maryland is waking up to deep-freeze temperatures that have formed a crisp coat of ice on ponds, coves and rivulets. Watch out! Someone is likely to get hurt. Because ice, and the icy water it hides, can kill.

Recent news items provide chilling warnings:

On Sunday, near Ocean City, 8-year-old Sam Wilkinson was chasing a ball across the ice on a partially frozen man-made lake when he fell in. By the time his body was found an hour later, it was too late.

On Monday, 14-year-old Joshua Sullivan fell through the frozen surface of Marley Creek in Anne Arundel County. Although he was briefly submerged, he was able to walk from chest-deep water with just a scare. An hour later, Brian Hart, also 14, fell into Cockey Creek. A quick-thinking neighbor pulled him out by using an extension cord.

The neighbor did exactly what experts recommend: Use anything on the shore that can be thrown or extended to the victim - an oar, jumper cables, skis. Don't run up to the hole. If you break through, there will be two victims. Numbing cold will soon overpower both.

Long spells of freezing temperatures occur here so seldom that most Marylanders do not realize how truly dangerous ice is. Many veterans from such predictably colder states as Minnesota and Wisconsin estimate that a minimum thickness of 4 inches of new solid ice is required for travel on foot.

In Maryland, waterways are so polluted or subject to unpredictable undercurrents that even much thicker ice often is not solid enough for safe passage. That's why adults must keep a watchful eye on children and make sure they don't endanger their lives by going out to shiny but brittle ice that looks so tempting in the glare of the sun.

Old folks talk wistfully about the winters of 1934 and 1936, when the upper Chesapeake was solidly frozen over and even the lower bay was mostly frozen. Those days are gone, though. However cold it may seem, it's not cold enough. The ice you see can be dangerous and lethal. Better admire its wintry glory from the safety of the shore.

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