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SPECIAL REPORT: WSBT meteorologist discusses what to do if you find yourself on thin ice

WSBT 22

We hear the stories every winter: someone ventures out onto a ice they think is solid and fall through.

There are things you can do to make sure the ice is safe -- and get out of danger if you find yourself on thin ice.

WSBT 22 Meteorologist Ed Russo tells us area lakes have been largely ice free much of the winter.

When someone falls through the ice, sometimes the story ends in relief; other times, tragedy.

A man recently fell through the ice on Terry Lake in DeKalb County and drowned.

Most victims don't die from hypothermia but from drowning.

“If you are to fall in the water, you have one minute to control your breathing, ten minutes of meaningful movement, and less than one hour until hypothermia sets in,” said Dave Benjamin, Director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

In the first minute, your body endures cold water shock, which causes you to involuntarily inhale.

This is incredibly dangerous because you could inhale water into the lungs, which can cause drowning.

Your body will overcome the shock after one minute. Over the next ten minutes, you must engage in some sort of meaningful movement that helps get your body out of the water.

“The strategy is to start kicking your feet and bringing yourself horizontal and then try crawling onto the path that you came onto the ice because it held you coming in to the point where you fell through,” said Benjamin. “Take the same path out.”

As you move past ten minutes, you start to lose the effectiveness of your limbs.

Within an hour, you will become unconscious due to hypothermia.

Overcoming cold water shock is a very important, first step in survival when submerged in ice water. Wearing a flotation device whenever you’re on the ice will increase your chances of survival dramatically.

That device will keep your head above water and prevent you from inhaling water due to the automatic gasp reflex.

If you don't have that important safety equipment, it's best to stay off the ice -- even if your pet falls in.

“If your 50-pound dog runs out on the ice and falls through, what’s a 120-pound or 140-pound adult person going to do?” said Benjamin. “They’re going to fall through the ice as well.”

Dogs, especially long-haired breeds, are much more able to survive icy water in the short term than humans.

“The Siberian husky handles cold really well,” said Dr. Kent Morgan, Veterinarian at Kryder Animal Hospital. “They have that big fluffy coat. The coat has a wax compound in it, but the fur in general is insulating both from heat and from cold. It’s just like wearing a big sweater.”

It's important to dial 911 and let first responders handle the rescue of your pet.

Our instinct is to help our pets at any cost, but the chances are high that you will die and your pet will be without an owner.

Another common problem we see this time of year is people venturing out on the ice on Lake Michigan.

The shore ice has moving water underneath. That water carves out cavities which make them unstable.

If you fall through, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to get out, since shore ice can be ten to fifteen feet high!

It’s also incredibly dangerous to walk on the ice in the river channels.

There is a strong current underneath. If you fall through, not only will you be susceptible to cold water shock, but the current can take you away from the hole you fell through, trapping you under the ice.

Always steer clear from these areas and be sure to watch the beauty from the safety of the bluff, beach, or parking lot.

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