As the Great Lakes have begun to freeze around the shoreline, the US Coast Guard has warned people to keep off.
Temperatures may have dropped, but the ice thickness “is far below past seasonal averages”, said the Coast Guard on Wednesday. This is “resulting in unstable, weak ice formation and extremely hazardous conditions”, it added.
The Great Lakes are known for ice fishing, skating, hockey, and curling in the winter months. However, coverage varies significantly from lake to lake and from year to year. Ice coverage appears to be in decline, and ice thickness levels are far below past seasonal averages, warned the Coast Guard.
There have been severe accidents on both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. “Annually, there have been multiple accidents due to ice instability resulting in persons in the water and complete losses of personal recreational equipment, like snowmobiles and ATVs,” said the Coast Guard. “Never assume the ice is safe, even if others are on it.”
Last year around this time there was an all-time record low for ice coverage across the Great Lakes, with only 1.3 per cent of the Great Lakes frozen over by 17 January.
“Climate change is causing significant and far-reaching impacts on the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes region,” states a 2019 report by non-profit the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
Waters are getting warmer and fish aren’t reproducing like they used to, as ice cover across the Great Lakes has declined 22 per cent over the past half-century, reported Climate Central in 2021.
Reduced recreational activities can have a financial impact on local towns as large events like ice fishing tournaments, which bring in huge amounts of money, are cancelled due to safety concerns.
The US Coast Guard has offered tips for keeping safe around the frozen lakes: “Wear the proper clothing to prevent hypothermia and choose bright colours to be easily seen by others. Carry proper safety equipment such as a whistle or noise-making device, waterproof VHF-FM radio or Personal Locating Beacon, and ice awls or screwdrivers which can be used in self-rescue should an accident on ice occur.”
The Great Lakes hold 90 per cent of the US's freshwater and more than 40 million people rely on it for their water supply.