We’re getting the coldest snap of the winter so far right now (just in time to frost the daffodil buds!), so it seemed like a good time to share this. From the Boston Globe, a cautionary tale about the dangers of even small-scale climate shifts and the unconscious assumption that humanity has turned the whole world into an adventure park:
LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE, N.H. — Temperatures were in the single digits and a light snow was blowing as the sun rose over Meredith Bay, but the carnival atmosphere was already well underway on the frozen waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. Bob houses dotted the ice, filled with fishermen dropping their first lines of the derby, as thousands of spectators streamed onto the lake, gawking at the scene, surveying the catches, and visiting the many food vendors selling out of trucks parked out there with them.
It was Saturday, Feb. 11, opening day of the 38th annual Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby, a giant ice fishing competition that draws upward of 10,000 people to the state’s largest lake.
Everything looked postcard-perfect. But looks can be deceiving.
Down in Concord, where the state’s Fish and Game Department is headquartered, Colonel Kevin Jordan was worried. He’s the chief of law enforcement for a department whose mission includes search and rescue work, and he already had teams in place all around the lake, patrolling on snowmobiles and ATVs and trucks, doing their usual job of checking fishing licenses and making sure everyone was behaving.
But that wasn’t what had him uneasy that morning. It was the weather. He always worries about derby weekend, with so many people on the ice, but this year was different. It was, he knew, the “perfect storm of conditions for a disaster.”
It had been warm that Wednesday, a high of 47 degrees, and stretches of the lake had been open water. Then it got cold for a few days, enough to form a light layer of ice in those spots. And then came the real kicker — it had snowed just enough to cover those thin areas.
The ice in Meredith Bay, where the derby is headquartered, was plenty thick. It was the rest of the 28-mile-long lake he was worried about. The usual advisories had gone out, from his department and the derby organizers, warning people to use caution on the ice and never assume it is safe.
People would go through the ice. He knew that. It happens every year. Trucks. Snowmobiles. ATVs. Typically, people can get themselves out or rescuers can get to them in time.
What he did not know, what no one knew, was that Saturday morning was the beginning of the worst day in the history of Lake Winnipesaukee…
When the human body is plunged into icy water, it reacts quickly and severely. “For lack of a better term, the body freaks out,” said Dr. Stuart Harris, chief of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Division of Wilderness Medicine. “You get this dumping of adrenaline that causes your heart rate to go up, your blood pressure to go up, and most importantly, it triggers an involuntary gasping where you’re taking deep breaths involuntarily. If the head goes underwater, you can drown almost immediately.”
If you can survive the initial gasping and get breathing under control while keeping your head above water, then you have about 10 minutes of meaningful movement — to swim, to grasp things, to try to pull yourself up on the ice. After that, the ability to self-rescue diminishes rapidly. If you can’t get onto the ice in those 10 minutes, or at least secure yourself to some means of flotation, you have about an hour before multisystem organ failure and death.
“If you don’t have someone coming to rescue you right away,” Harris said, “or you
haven’t made preparations beforehand to keep from getting into trouble, it is unlikely that you’re going to get out alive.”…