LACONIA — The mild weather this week likely inspired lakeside property owners to dream about warm days to come — when they will untie their boat for a day on the lake, or just sit on the dock with a book and cup of coffee. But, winter has one last abuse to hurl their way: spring ice damage.
In an ideal spring, the weather would gradually warm, allowing lake ice to soften before it is broken up and pushed around by wind, said Dave Farley, owner of Diversified Marine Construction in Gilford. "A mild ice-out year is one when it's warm and the ice gets to a 'candled' state." Though it could still be a foot thick, spring ice is softened, he said, by vertical candle-like holes that melt through the sheet. If such a sheet of ice pushes into a structure, it is likely to simply break apart without causing harm.
Damage from ice occurs in the spring when the wind is able to push ice when it's still thick and solid. While the large chunks of ice may not be moving too fast, they have a lot of weight behind them, and anything in their path will suffer from the impact. Dock pilings are knocked over, even stone breakwaters will topple if struck by a moving sheet of solid ice.
Then, there's what happened in the spring of 2014.
"What happened last year, in April we had a lot of warm rain, the rain brought the lake to over full status," said Farley. Because the water level rose, it also freed the ice from the shoreline and brought the water level up even with the decking of many docks. Many of his customers not only suffered a damaged piling, they lost their whole dock. There were so many docks needing repair that his company had to limit their work to only their long-term customers. Even then it took months to fix all the docks.
Glenn Fuller, construction manager for Watermark Marine Construction, said his crews were also swamped last spring. "Last year was one of our worst years," he said. Fuller thinks there's a new development that has made Lake Winnipesaukee more vulnerable to ice damage: the proliferation of water circulators placed under docks to keep expanding ice from destroying their dock in the middle of winter. With so many waterfront properties utilizing the circulators, there's increasingly less contact between the ice and the shoreline. "If the ice isn't connected to shore, it gives that big parcel more space to move. Once it gets moving, it's very hard to stop."
Watermark was so busy with dock repair orders last year that it's still trying to catch up, he said, so Fuller is hoping the ice is kinder this spring. "We never caught up last year. Right now, with regular construction work, we're booked into the summer."
Fuller thinks the lake ice is lingering this year longer than usual. In some places, such as Alton Bay and in Moultonborough, it's still two feet thick. The rain that fell yesterday will help advance the melting, he said, but he declined to predict if this year would be easier than last. "It's hard to forecast, it's at the will of the wind."
Farley was optimistic, noting that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association was forecasting a cooler than normal spring, which should allow for the ice to soften before it starts moving around. However, he also wasn't making any predictions. "Of course, Mother Nature's a powerful woman and she's going to do whatever she wants."