Frigid temperatures turn Donner to ice
Donner Lake’s waters have frozen into a sheet of ice, but local officials warn that the seemingly solid lake can be deadly for the unwary.
Recent low temperatures are expected to warm as the week progresses, and officials are hoping to avoid a tragedy similar to the death last January of an ice skater who fell through the ice and drowned in Donner Lake.
Sacramento resident George Sommerdorf Jr. was wearing two-foot-tall stilts with ice skates that were fastened with screws, according to police, when he broke through the ice last year 100 yards from Donner’s north shore.
This year the lake has not yet seen the crowds of skaters “-or the thick ice ” that developed last January, but officials are still wary.
“The problem is we can’t do anything about people that want to go out there on the ice,” said Truckee Police Sgt. Tim Hargrove, who is also the dive team supervisor. “The chances of rescuing someone are very slim because of response time, so we recommend people just stay off the ice.”
Although the snow-covered east end of Donner Lake may currently seem frozen, long-time Truckee resident Charlie White said appearances can be deceiving.
“Conditions have to be just right for Donner Lake to freeze,” he said. “It has to be very cold for an extended period, and there has to be no wind.”
White said while the recent cold snap delivered one ingredient, the gusty winds that followed have broken up the ice at times.
“What really surprises me is with all the people that do go out there, I have yet to see someone wearing a life jacket,” White said.
Last year’s drowning on Donner Lake did cause some to use caution, but Gene Welch of the Truckee Fire Protection District said the accidental death did not warn off everyone.
“This [the drowning] was very unfortunate and unnecessary,” he said. “We can’t keep everyone off the lake, but we always try to warn people of the dangers involved.”
Additionally, Welch said he recommends that those who do risk venturing on the ice have proper knowledge of ice thickness, safety, and survival techniques.
“People have to take responsibility for their actions,” he said. “But unfortunately, people just don’t take the right precautions.”