Sunday Science: Frozen Lake Champlain - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sunday Science: Frozen Lake Champlain

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On this sunny winter day in Burlington, you can see people wandering out onto frozen Lake Champlain.

"It's great. I just love it out here. I've always wanted to check out the tree that's on the breakwall to be honest, so I got to get really close to it today, which was nice," says Tom Billings. 

It isn't unusual for the lake to ice over, but the National Weather Service says in the past few years that hasn't happened thanks to warmer than average winters.

"Looking back at the last six or seven years, the northern parts of the lake and down in the southern part where it's shallower those freeze over every year, but the broad lake, it's been since 2007 since we've seen it freeze over," says National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Nash.

When the lake ices, the heat energy stored in the water has to escape. That means there's no instant freeze. It takes very cold temperatures in late fall and early winter to gradually bring the water temperature down below 32.

"So the prolonged cold that we saw in December and into early January helped to accellerate that cooling of the lake and finally get down to 32 and started the ice to form," says Nash.

While walking out is fun though, the Coast Guard says there are some things you need to know before you step out on the ice.

"Don't just blindly go to areas on the lake. I see people walking straight out on the lake until we can't see them anymore," says Petty Officer Ian Nelms with the U.S. Coast Guard in Burlington. "And the ice is very dynamic with all these temperature changes. And especially with the snow cover, there's just no telling what's going to be there."

And with the warmer temperatures we've had in the last week, they're warning people to think twice.

"We had a dog go through our water over here and I just saw the owner run right for it -- we're like 'Stop!' And we caught them in time, but I'm sure just to get the dog they would have gone through the ice trying to get it," he says.

For those who are planning to walk out, the Coast Guard recommends taking a few steps, like bringing a life jacket, screwdrivers, and a cell phone in a waterproof case. And if you do see someone go through, don't run to help them because you'll put yourself in danger. Instead, keep a safe distance and call for help.

Also, the Nash told us anytime that air temperature is starting to get above freezing and the sun can get through the ice, it starts to warm the water underneath the ice and you start melting from down below. So, the top of the ice may still seem fairly solid and not melted, but you don't know how thick it is because it's really melting from below.

For more information about ice hazards you can check out this website, which crowdsources information about lake hazards: http://lakeice.squarespace.com/persistent-hazards-map/    

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