February 2015 was the coldest February since 1934. The often-referenced “polar vortex” of last year doesn’t measure up to the cold of February 2015, which left most of the Chesapeake Bay north of the Bay Bridge covered in ice. Such an extent of ice on the Bay has not been seen since 1977!
Marshy Point cancelled this year’s Popsicle Plunge—originally scheduled for Saturday, March 7th—because the Chesapeake Bay is frozen. As I type this article, a new round of freezing rain is coating everything in yet another layer of ice.
In addition to canceling the Plunge, the ice on the Bay has kept watermen from working, delayed commercial shipping, and kept the Coast Guard and Department of Natural Resources busy with rescues, buoy tending, supply runs to cut-off Bay communities, and icebreaking.
Most wildlife can deal with the frozen state of the Bay. Blue crabs are hibernating in the Bay’s deeper channels, fish have moved to deeper waters where the temperatures are less susceptible to change, and oysters tend to live deeper than the thickness of the ice.
In areas where SAV (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation) grows close to the shoreline, the ice can damage the plants by pulling up stems and roots as it shifts. Waterfowl can also be impacted by the frozen conditions, as they require open water to forage for food and for safety. Occasionally, waterfowl become stuck in ice as the water freezes around them.
The water of the Chesapeake Bay is brackish—a mixture of salt and freshwater whose freezing point is slightly lower than freshwater. Freshwater freezes at 32°F (0°C), whereas seawater freezes at 28.5°F (-1.9°C).
The salt spread on roadways mixes with water to its saturation point and will still freeze at temperatures below 0°F (-17.7°C). All of that salt is not without other environmental implications, but that is a subject for another article.
In the meantime, at least it isn’t quite as deep a freeze as the Winter of 1976 to 1977 when locals recall seeing someone drive a Volkswagen from Rocky Point to Hart-Miller Island on the ice!