The Mystique of River Ice

in
March 12, 2014
River ice is moving out as Spring rains come in.

This Winter the West Branch of the Susquehanna River froze completely over in many places. Having grown up beside the river, the ice fascinates me.

Many years ice does not reach across from edge to edge, but just hugs the shoreline. The current fights the freezing water for domination. Air and water temperature must agree on the subject for ice to build and stay. Different places in the river respond in their own ways. Swift water areas stay ice free. Slow, deep runs let the side ice creep in and build. Cold mornings give us the light, delicate "frazil pan" ice that reflects the sunshine like miniature floating diamond barges.

Recent warmer Winters have left the river mostly iceless. Robbing the season of one of it's most intriguing and beautiful features. This year brought us a bounty of ice on the creeks, Rose Valley Lake and the river.

Ice fisherman fished, ice scuba teams swam as the water froze and held. Now, it is time to thaw and the ice will break up and move out with high water.

River Ice is a natural object that grows to be a foot thick and 10 + football fields in length here. What does it weigh? What damage could it do as it breaks up and is flushed out with a Spring rain?

In some years the ice has caused major problems in our area. I specifically remember the 1984 Valentines day flood where there was significant ice flow and the awful 1996 January flood that was deadly for six people in the Lycoming Creek watershed. The flood was one of the hardest to clean up from because the water actually froze in the flooded homes, leaving shards of ice all along the walls and floors.

In the past, river ice was a major community concern. Frozen layers of ice were harvested off the river and stored in large warehouses that sold ice to consumers in warmer weather. Sawdust was placed between the layers of ice to keep them from freezing together. How precious a glass of iced lemonade must have been in the Summers before refrigeration. But can you imagine sipping on that glass of ice chilled lemonade and finding sawdust, or a twig or something else from the river! Compare that to our beautifully clean, filtered commercial bags of ice today.

This year as the ice moves out I encourage you to let it remind you of the past, the heritage of the river and imagine the world before every home had an electric refrigerator.

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_trade
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knickerbocker_Ice_Company
http://www.nws.noaa.gov/oh/hrl/surveys/flood96/FL96chp1.htm - NOAAs review of the 1996
http://www.iceharvestingusa.com/Harvesting%20on%20the%20Hudson%20NY%20Pa...
http://articles.philly.com/1996-01-28/news/25651151_1_flood-prone-states... - 1996 Flood article
http://www.tabermuseum.org - Lycoming County Historical Mueseum

Additional Images: 
Ice along the West Branch Susquehanna March 2014
The river completely frozen over at the Arch Street Bridge, Williamsport, Pa, March 2014.
Pine Creek near Route 200 / Route 44 North. March 2014.
Full ice coverage at the Antlers, upriver from Newberry, March 2014.
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