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Stay off shelf ice, fire chief delivers warning

While it may be tempting to go onto shelf ice along the shore of Lake Michigan, it can be very dangerous.

MUSKEGON, Mich — The ice building along the shore of lake Michigan is known as shelf ice. It usually consists of multiple uneven layers of ice, big cracks, and dangerous pockets that can drop straight down to open water.

As a result of arctic air over the last week ice coverage on Lake Michigan grew from 11% to 17%.

"It's not as far out as it usually is this time of year," said Muskegon resident Steven Knowlton, who visited the lake on Thursday to see the ice from the safety of the parking lot at Pere Marquette Park.

That quick change in ice coverage means the ice shelf now extending out into the lake may look solid in places but it's actually shifting, cracking, and heaving. 

Every year the ice attracts people out onto the ice shelf. Knowlton spotted a few individuals walking on the ice Thursday.

"I wouldn't take a chance," Knowlton said. "It's not worth it."

"You should never be out on that," added North Muskegon Fire Chief Gordon Cole. "Just stay off."

Cole says the ice shelf often includes dangerous cavities that lead to open water. Anyone who goes out onto the ice shelf could fall into one of the cavities, or it could collapse resulting in them being trapped on the ice.

"You could fall through and not be able to get out," said Cole. "Even if you're not in the water you could injure yourself."

And for shutterbugs who are often the ones venturing out onto the ice shelf, Cole has this advice. He says, take your photographs with a long-distance lens or invest in a drone so you can get the shot without leaving the shore.

For the season, the ice coverage on Lake Michigan is lagging behind where it was last year at this time. It is expected to increase in the next few weeks but not expected to be anywhere near record levels. 


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