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Single-Digit Temps, North Winds, Causing Homer Harbor to Ice In

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Bryan Hawkins
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Homer Harbormaster
Arctic air and the north wind fills Homer Harbor with ice.

Harbormaster urges caution for small boat mariners.

As December’s cold spell makes its way into January, the Homer Boat Harbor is starting to fill with shore-fast ice at the north end and brash ice floating on the tides at the harbor entrance. Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins describes it as “froze pretty tight.”

"Only the larger vessels are able to move around then, you know, the larger commercial boats with the deeper draft. They're still able to move around. Although it's still sometimes a battle for them to the entrance of the harbor is froze out with Brash ice that's just packed in there on this northeasterly clear out past the Pioneer dock. So vessels are having to, you know, that are moving through that. It takes them quite a bit of time to get pushed all the way into the harbor or out of the harbor. Once you get inside the Basin if you're trying to get into the float systems that's you know, like C float and B float and they froze pretty tight. There hasn't been a lot of movement in that area of other vessels so they haven't kept it stirred up," Hawkins said.

While he hasn’t measured it himself, Hawkins estimates the ice thickness to be four- to six-inches. Video of the harbor posted to social media show charter boats with their hulls and outboards frozen solid into the ice.

Hawkins said vessels are able to make it into and out of the fish dock just fine, despite the icy conditions, but said ice floes formed on the Fox River Flats and transported to the boat harbor by tides and the prevailing northerly winds complicate matters.

"Once we fill up with that brash ice and then the water temperature in the Basin is lowered to the point where it actually starts freezing together and making a giant slushy. The back of the harbor towards the load and launch ramp. We're starting to see it, you know, just solidify now because overall the water temperature, you know, it's below that 28 degrees when saltwater starts freezing," Hawkins said.

Hawkins had some advice for boaters who think they might head out on the water: give the harbormaster’s office a shout to check on current conditions.

"Always check with us. If you're making plans if your small boat owner and you're making plans to you know, travel across the bay to come to town for provisions or if you're you're making plans to maybe go out and enjoy a day of fishing on the bay. Make sure you check in or drive down and check it out. these conditions are pretty dangerous for small boat operating and there may be days when you think the harbors pretty clear and I think I can make it out but always remember that you've got to get back in and if if it's, you're pushing it and the ice feels in the mouth of the harbor you and you can't get back in. That's what I let you know then we can't help you. We don't have anything that can push through and get you either," Hawkins said.

The good news, Hawkins said, is that with even a slight warming, conditions could change quickly.

"You know with a few degrees temperature warm up. It starts turning more rotten, the ice gets softer and then all it takes is you know one day or so of a westerly, to flush it out. And we start the process over again," Hawkins said.

That might happen a week from now, when the forecast calls for a high around 32, but until then, there’s more ice-forming single-digit temperatures expected through the weekend.