Ice is gone from many Maine lakes, but hypothermia remains a threat

Posted April 18, 2012, at 6:05 p.m.
Last modified April 18, 2012, at 7:15 p.m.

The ice might be steadily melting away from Maine’s ponds, lakes and rivers, but the hazards of winter do not end there, a state official warned Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, ice was reported out at about 70 lakes and ponds statewide on the Maine Department of Conservation’s website at maine.gov. The most recent reports listed Moosehead and Rangeley lakes as navigable from shore to shore, according to the website.

But St. Froid Lake in Aroostook County and Sebec Lake in Piscataquis County still have ice, said Maureen Hastings, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Caribou. In addition, Eagle, Long and Square lakes in Aroostook County are not on the department’s ice-out list.

The disappearance of the ice leaves accidental exposure to hypothermia as the next and worst hazard that can befall those who venture into the water, said George Powell, director of the boating facilities division of the Maine Department of Conservation.

He warned anyone looking to boat or kayak on the water to stay close to shore, to try to avoid accidental overturns and to wear personal flotation devices or neoprene suits where possible to avoid exposure to water that is most likely not too much warmer than 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The water temperatures will vary from place to place,” Powell said Wednesday. “If the ice has just gone out it will be over 32 degrees, but I don’t think you will find any place where the water is over 50 degrees. Even in southern Maine it won’t be.”

Hypothermia — a medical emergency that occurs when bodies lose heat faster than they can produce it – usually commences when the body temperature drops from normal, around 98.6 F (37 C), to below 95 F (35 C), according to mayoclinic.com. As the body’s temperature drops, the heart, nervous system and other organs begin to fail with astonishing speed — sometimes as quickly as several minutes.

“There’s an old saying: If the water temperature is 50 degrees and you’re 50 feet from shore, you have a 50 percent chance of survival,” Powell said.

Megunticook, Chickawaukie and Eagle lakes in the Camden, Rockland and Mount Desert Island areas, respectively, were the first to thaw, with ice reported out there in mid-March. By March 25, Worthley Pond in Peru, Wesserunsett Lake in Madison and Pushaw Lake in Glenburn and Orono were out, the conservation department website states.

Bottle Lake in Lakeville, Big Wood Lake in Jackman, and Moosehead and Rangeley lakes in Greenville and Rangely, respectively, were reported out within the last five days, the website states.

It was such a mild winter this year that Sebago Lake never froze entirely and the Kennebec River had no ice floes, Powell said.

Anyone interested in seeing the state’s iced-out lakes list can visit http://www.maine.gov/doc/parks/programs/boating/ice_out12.html.

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