Weather forecasting has become quite good in recent years. Hence, we all knew it was coming for a week or more ahead of time. Much of the country, including the Lake area would be experiencing a prolonged late February "Epic" arctic blast. And boy, did we. Below is the top ten list of that we learned.
#10: It happens. Just like 100 knot winds, you have to build for it here. It does not happen very often, but it happens. The fact that it is rare, leads to complacency. Some have said the last time it was so cold for so long was 1979. Many years, such as last year, dock owners needed no de-ice equipment at all. It was just that mild.
#9: Stay ahead of it. When the cold blast hit, the Lake was still relatively warm and it was windy. Although the nighttime lows would be in the single digits, I was lulled into the belief that the warmer water and wind would keep the cove ice free. Therefore, I did not activate my pumps on the cove side. That proved a mistake, and I awoke the next morning to serious ice build-up on that side of the docks. The pumps would have prevented that. Therefore, when the temps dip that low, run everything all the time. Electricity is much cheaper than bent steel or new bottom paint. It is much, much, much easier to keep ice from forming than it is to melt it once it has formed. Again, stay ahead of it.
#8: No one technology is perfect. My neighbor uses the conventional “ice eaters” and I use pumps and PVC. Both technologies have their pros and cons. The ice eaters are good at keeping a round area free of ice, however when it got below zero, that area becomes quite small. You may find you need many more ice eaters than would be needed in milder conditions. The pumps cover a much larger and more targeted area, but to a lesser degree. My neighbor and I agree one probably needs a combination of both technologies. At one point I was pumping more than 500 gallons per minute. My neighbor and I swapped technologies back and forth and generally managed to keep the docks ice free. When it became clear we needed more capacity we built several portable units that we could move around quickly. A $50 submersible pump and a few bucks of PVC (and an extension cord) can build a portable unit that might just save the day. This proved crucial.
#7: Buy your de-icing equipment in the summer. If you wait to until you need it there won’t be any available. Duhh….
#6: You will need to be available. For an entire, week my neighbor and I both worked around the clock. As a result, we saved the boats and docks. But it was utterly exhausting.
#5: Dress right. In those temps you can lose body temperature very quickly. My neighbor and I both wore several layers of insulated wear with full Carhartt’s. We were able to endure many hours of sub-zero temps. Have a warm-up place. Worse case that is a vehicle. Fortunately for us, my neighbor’s house is very close to his dock. My house is considerably further away, but I heat a winter bathroom and my office which is also close to the dock. This gave us a several “staging areas” to build pumps, monitor bilge temps, curse Ameren, etc.
#4: Most of the cruisers on my dock use bilge heaters. They are great and allow the boats to be used year-round. Make sure they are coast guard approved and ignition protected. Make sure there is enough BTU capacity for the sized bilge. One of the larger cruiser’s bilge temp got dangerously low with two heaters running. Fortunately, my neighbor had a spare bilge heater and were able to “beef up” the capacity. Install an alarm that will alert you of a low temp and/or a power failure. This technology by Lyric, WeMo and others is cheap and reliable. As a backup, for less than $40, I purchased from Amazon an indoor/outdoor thermometer that monitors three locations simultaneously. I placed these in my boat cabin, my bilge and the bilge of a friend. I placed the base unit in view of one of my security cameras and was able to monitor the temps in all three locations in real time from in front of my fireplace.
#3: Ameren does not give a damn about your dock. They state this up front. Their primary purpose is the generation of power. When the grid ran out of power, they kicked Bagnell Dam to full capacity. This kept the lights on in St. Louis, but it lowered the Lake several feet in just a few days. By this time, many, if not most docks were frozen in. You could hear ramps, stiff arms and cables snapping everywhere. One neighbor had his entire seawall collapse. It was ugly.
Note: There is merit to loosening your cables to alleviate the pressure. But remember, if the dock is frozen in, loosening the cables in many cases transfers the stress to your ramp and or stiff arm and can cause either or both to fail. Therefore, this should be done on a case-by-case basis and it far better to keep the dock from freezing in in the first place.
#2: Understand the thermodynamics. The water temperature matters just like the wind. We were surprised that after the initial melt, the cove iced over several more nights, twice when the outside air temps were well above freezing. I am told this is because the water becomes “super cooled”. It was not until March 6 with much milder temps that I finally shut the pumps off for good (hopefully).
#1: It is a team effort. I have wonderful neighbors and we all helped each other continually. None of us could have done it alone.
So how did we fare? None of the boats were damaged. My neighbor lost an air line off one of his lifts – simple fix once the ice melted. I had one of my stiff-arm seawall mounts bend slightly and break a few welds (it remained attached). It was a $200 welding repair already accomplished. It would have been much, much more expensive if we had not worked so hard to keep the docks mostly ice free. I understand that many, many other dock owners fared much worse. We were lucky, but that electric bill…