How to safely get out of icy water
If you ever find yourself falling through ice, what are the immediate steps to take in order to get out? AccuWeather meteorologist Geoff Cornish explains.
When the temperatures outside drop below 32 degrees, water will freeze. Several days of frigid temperatures will cause ponds, lakes, and rivers, to ice over. There's nothing more tempting than taking a stroll across a frozen body of water. However, you must remember that it's not an ice-skating rink, and it's dangerous.
(AP Photo/Duluth News Tribune, Bob King)
Playing on frozen water can have deadly consequences
An estimated 8,000 people die each year by falling through the ice. If a body of water has less than six inches of ice, then the chances of it cracking or breaking increase. Do you know what to do should you fall through frozen waters?
There's an uncanny appeal about a body of frozen water. It seems to call to the inner child and those who love winter activities. Adults and children alike feel compelled to skate, ride a 4-wheeler, and drag sleds across the icy playground. However, you can quickly fall in, no matter how stable the surface may seem. Your body weight can crack the sheet of frost that covers the water, especially if it's not thick enough. The frigid water can feel like a thousand knives stabbing you at once, and you may panic feeling you will meet your untimely demise.
Frozen Susquehanna River
Don't panic! Get out of the water
It's natural to be in a state of shock and fear. However, you must stay calm so that you can take control of the situation. One of the biggest concerns when a person falls into an icy bath, is that they will ingest water and drown. If you should find yourself in this situation, immediately cover your nose and close your mouth. Hypothermia can develop in a matter of minutes, so it's essential to get out of the water and change your clothes quickly. The icy garments can continue to bring your body temperature down, making hypothermia risks higher.
The goal is to exit the water quickly. It's best to leave in the direction in which you came. There will be a spot on the ice that is stable; it's right before the break. You will find the ice at this spot is stable enough to support your weight to pull yourself out of the frigid water. Get to the edge of the hole, place both hands on either side and raise your legs behind you while you kick. Imagine you're doing a "doggy-paddle" style of swimming with your feet as it will help you build momentum. The paddling motion will help you to kick yourself out of the water. Be sure you keep your arms moving as they can easily stick to the ice creating another problem.
Once you have maneuvered yourself out of the ice, don't stand up! The ice is unstable, and it may break again if you put weight on it. You want to keep your weight evenly distributed, so you must crawl from the ice to safety. Once you make it on dry land, remove your clothes, and slowly rewarm your body. If you have parts of your body that are frostbitten, don't try to warm those areas. Seek medical attention right away.
Photo by Simon Matzinger
Hypothermia can occur in as little as five minutes. Many people know the term, but they don't truly understand the condition. When the body temperature drops below 95 degrees, it's considered a medical emergency. Essentially, when this happens, the body is putting out more heat than it is taking in. It's imperative to correct the situation as frostbite and other complications can develop quickly. You can lose consciousness if the body drops below 82 degrees, which is considered severe hypothermia.
When your body temperature falls below 98.6 degrees, you can experience the following:
Loss of Consciousness
An Altered State of Reality
Once you've changed your clothes, get medical help immediately. Time is of the essence when your body temperature is dangerously low. If left untreated, you can experience a heart attack, respiratory distress, and can eventually die.
Knowing how to handle a situation is imperative during the winter months. Be sure to keep your eye on the sky and know the forecasted weather in your area. Many places post reports on the level of ice on waterways where people congregate for fun. However, you must always be prepared when heading out on the water as even the most durable ice can crack and send you diving into an ice bath of danger.