Too Little Ice for an Ice Rescue Drill?

Snow and cold weather arrived in Green Bay, Wis., just in time for a football playoff game. Authorities expect there will be sufficient ice for a large-scale ice rescue drill set for Jan. 18 near Dyckesville, Wis.

Three drownings in a recent three-day period that resulted from people breaking through thin ice on Wisconsin waters caused the state's Department of Natural Resources to issue a warning Jan. 10 "strongly cautioning that ice on many state waterways is not thick enough to safely support a human -- much less any type of vehicle." Conservation Warden Todd Schaller, recreation safety chief for the department, said ice is always unpredictable, but this winter's mild weather has produced ice levels much thinner than normal for this time of year.

Snow arrived in Green Bay just in time for its Jan. 15 playoff game, and the Green Bay Press Gazette's forecast for this week was frosty: highs of 34, 21, 10, and 12 degrees for Jan. 17-20, with daily lows of 18, 0, -3, and 2 degrees.

The temperatures are significant because the U.S. Coast Guard has set a temporary safety zone on the waters near Dyckesville, Wis., to keep vessels away from "a large scale ice rescue exercise" that will involve multiple state and federal agencies, according to the temporary final rule. This zone is effective and will be enforced from 7 a.m. Jan. 17 to 7 a.m. Jan. 20.

For more information about the temporary rule, contact BM1 Adam Kraft, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan, at 414-747-7148 or Adam.D.Kraft@uscg.mil.

Scheduled to start around 8 a.m. Jan. 18, the exercise is intended to be a realistic simulation of the crash of a 50-passenger plane into a bay. The Coast Guard and numerous agencies are participating in what Paul Gazdik, emergency management coordinator in the Brown County (Wis.) Emergency Management Department, said Jan. 17 is one of the largest exercises the department has participated in since he joined it 10 years ago. "Besides being pretty cold, we have some weather coming through today. The Coast Guard was out yesterday testing ice. We have about 8 inches of ice at the exercise site," he said. "If the ice isn't favorable for having people out there, we'll adjust our plans. If we can't get far enough out on the ice to do our dive operation, we'll adjust. We're trying to work out all the contingencies," he added.

The rule said restrictions on vessel movement within the affected area "are expected to be minimal" because under certain conditions, vessels still may travel through the safety zone when permitted by the Captain of the Port, Sector Lake Michigan. The Coast Guard said it expects there will be little to no vessel traffic "due to the fact that this portion of the waterway will be iced over," adding, "It is expected that ice fishermen may be affected but public notice flyers to be distributed throughout the town of Dyckesville, along with this publication in the Federal Register, will mitigate any economic impact and keep a substantial number of ice fishermen from being affected."

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