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Our View: Common sense can get us through winter

Simple common sense may have prompted some ice anglers Saturday morning to take one look over Superior Bay, note the open water in the distance and the gusting strong winds, and say to themselves, "Nope, not the smartest or safest day to venture ...

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

Simple common sense may have prompted some ice anglers Saturday morning to take one look over Superior Bay, note the open water in the distance and the gusting strong winds, and say to themselves, "Nope, not the smartest or safest day to venture out onto this ice."

But 35 others did venture out and then had to be rescued when the ice predictably broke away from shore and floated off, stranding them. An ice floe was predictable because similar rescues have been necessary from similar floating chunks of ice under similar weather conditions in previous early winters. It may not happen every year here in Duluth, but it happens too often.

While the usual debate can ensue - as well it should - over whether to send bills to recoup the costs of emergency responses following poor decisions that lead to the need to rescue, Saturday's incident can serve, too, as a cautionary tale. Emerging safely from winter here in the frozen north can require planning, precautions, and careful discernment.

Firefighters estimated the ice thickness in the harbor Saturday at about 12 inches, as the News Tribune reported. But ice ought never be considered completely safe, especially so early in winter before an abundance of frigid temps makes better ice in more locations. As a general rule, authorities say to stay off ice less than 2 inches thick. Walking and ice skating are OK on ice 4 inches thick or thicker. Five to 6 inches are needed for snowmobiles and ATVs, 8 to 12 inches for cars and smaller trucks, and 12 inches to 15 inches for pickups and other heavier vehicles.

Even if the ice on Superior Bay Saturday was 12 inches thick, anglers probably shouldn't have been so quick to venture out. Strong winds and open water weren't the only things threatening to create ice floes. The nearby shipping channel, still active in early winter, also causes ice to break apart and move about.

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"The ice is always changing, always dangerous," Duluth Fire Department Acting Assistant Chief Mark Herman said in the News Tribune. "When you're out there, you're taking your life into your hands. Fortunately, everything worked out well today."

Winter readiness is a necessity on land, too.

If you're driving, a winter survival kit in your car or trunk can include a flashlight, batteries, a blanket, snacks, water, gloves, boots, a first-aid kit, an ice scraper, snow brush, jumper cables, and road flares, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Having a charged cell phone should you become stranded is a good idea, too; just don't use it while driving. Watch the weather forecasts. If snow and ice are predicted, maybe don't venture out. If caught in inclement weather, slow down.

Closer to our homes, we can commit to being better about shoveling the public sidewalks in front of our houses this winter as well. Pedestrians - especially the elderly, those with disabilities, and children heading to and from school - need safe places to walk, away from traffic that may be slipping and sliding. Incentives to shovel like snow-angel certificates and golden shovel awards are no longer happening in Duluth. Such recognition from the city shouldn't be necessary anyway to prompt anyone to do the right thing.

"This is the good, neighborly thing that we do for one another," Mayor Emily Larson said in a recent interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board. "We don't want to see parents with strollers in streets. That's not safe. ... How can we maybe work with community groups to say, 'OK, this neighbor is just not going to be able to (shovel his or her sidewalk). Just because it's the right thing to do, I've got this neighbor, and I'm going to do this one.' Maybe that's something we can roll out with our community clubs."

As well-intentioned as the mayor no doubt is, community clubs and neighborhood groups shouldn't wait for the city before initiating neighbors-helping-neighbors efforts to keep sidewalks clean and safe this winter.

It seems a no-brainer for our winter-conscious city. Common sense.

But so, too, does not venturing out onto shifting ice.

Related Topics: OUR VIEWEMILY LARSON
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