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As Michigan piers and waterways freeze up, experts warn against unnecessary risks

Daylight reveals ice saucers in South Haven's Black River Channel on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (WWMT/Christina Anthony)
Daylight reveals ice saucers in South Haven's Black River Channel on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (WWMT/Christina Anthony)
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We won't sugarcoat this: Winter is officially here across West Michigan.

Arctic air settled in behind a departing storm Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, with the season's first single-digit low quick to follow for Sunday, Feb. 7

By Monday, Feb. 8, South Haven's pier and lighthouse were encased in thick ice from a weekend's worth of heavy freezing spray.

And the Black River Channel was teeming with ice saucers.

It's the exact sort of thing that brings thrill-seekers from all over for pictures from the icy pier, but Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project Executive Director Dave Benjamin said the risk isn't worth the reward.

"There's always currents either moving in or out along these piers," Benjamin said. "If you happen to go under, that current pulls you under, there's no way of swimming back to that hole that you just fell through. You're trapped. And there's no rescue scenario for that except for the spring thaw."

So it's no surprise that the Weather Alert Network was worried when a person appeared on South Haven's icy pier Sunday, Feb. 7.

He or she walked the slippery, snow and ice-coated structure all the way to the lighthouse, then walked back again, all while 3- to 4-foot waves crashed over the surface.

This dare-devil appeared to have made it off the pier OK, but if you do slip and fall into frigid water, remember the 1-10-1 rule.

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"If you have sudden immersion in cold water, you have one minute to control your breathing, 10 minutes of meaningful movement, and up to one hour until hypothermia may set in and kill you," Benjamin explained.

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