2 pond deaths in 1 day — When is it safe to go on the ice?
Following the deaths of two teenage boys who fell through an icy pond in separate incidents Wednesday — one in Carteret and one in East Brunswick — New Jersey residents are being warned to stay on land for the time being.
Weather this January has been milder than usual for the Garden State. According to State Climatologist David Robinson at Rutgers University, water bodies have been "ice-free" for weeks, and only the past few days have produced extremely cold temperatures.
"And that's simply not enough time for any water body to freeze over to a thickness that can support anyone being on it," Robinson said. "It just hasn't been brutally cold for any extended period of time this winter."
In fact, Robinson said, this January could end up ranking as one of New Jersey's mildest on record, going back 125 years.
Just a few hours separated the two rescue attempts Wednesday evening in Middlesex County. The victims, both in eighth grade, had fallen into partially frozen ponds in their hometowns.
In the East Brunswick incident, several first responders had to be treated for hypothermia.
Looking ahead, Robinson said he sees no "safe ice conditions" for at least the next week to 10 days, thanks to milder weather.
"Really you need a week or certainly more than a week in certain cases of very cold subfreezing weather," Robinson said.
Even then, he added, certain factors could make the ice too weak to support a human being.
"One portion of the lake may seem to be frozen over, sufficient for activities, while other parts of the lake are hazards waiting to happen," said Mount Olive Mayor Robert Greenbaum.
Mount Olive is home to Budd Lake, where two high school friends fell through the ice in January 2013, more than 100 yards from land.
"The message that we put out to the community after our unfortunate incident ... was that the ice is never safe to go on, especially Budd Lake, which has many different springs and currents," Greenbaum said.
But people still go out on the ice at their own risk, he said. Just this winter, according to Greenbaum, two fishermen fell into the icy lake but managed to get themselves out of the water.
While plenty of bodies of water across New Jersey have signage warning residents about the risks of going into the water, others have no warnings. Municipalities or counties may choose to post ice conditions on their websites.
According to the National Weather Service, individuals should stay off the ice if it is less than 2 inches thick. At least 4 inches of ice are needed for ice fishing, ice skating and walking.
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