Rescue officials, police and border guards say they have received numerous calls about people, animals and pets stranded in frozen waters after ice cover failed beneath them.
On Saturday the Border Guard’s flight division released video of rescuers saving a dog that fell through the ice in Kirkkonummi last week. The dog had reportedly followed a swan onto the ice, which proved to be treacherous as it failed beneath its paws, plunging the animal into the ice-cold waters.
That same day in separate incidents, at least three people also ended up in the water as they tried to save other animals that had ventured onto the ice.
As night-time temperatures have risen above zero, ice cover in northern Finland has also begun to weaken rapidly, according to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, FMI. The organisation said that while the ice is still firm in areas north of Vaasa, western Finland, it is already unsteady in the archipelago off Vaasa.
FMI meteorologist Niko Tollman said that ice in northern sea areas may appear to be thick, but he noted that during spring, thickness is no indication of safety.
"When the structure of the ice becomes fragile, it is possible to fall through even the thickest ice. There is certainly cause to exercise caution in the Bay of Bothnia and in coastal areas in Ostrobothnia," Tollman advised.
The meteorologist pointed out that April has been warmer than average and that there has been significantly less ice cover than last spring on open seas.
"Big changes can happen in just a few days. Even if the ice held up on Tuesday, it will not necessarily be the same in the same spot the following weekend," he noted.
Ice cover in the central Finland and Kainuu lakes still appears to be several centimetres thick, but the warmer-than-usual April weather has also thinned lake ice. The ice forecast by the Finnish Environmental Institute Syke indicates that lake cover will weaken by dozens of centimetres during the week ahead, and that this thinning will take place in waters as far north as Lapland.
The Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation SUH has called on people to avoid venturing on to the ice, particularly in marine areas as well as on lakes in central Finland.
"Spring ice is especially treacherous. Ice that seems solid in the morning may rapidly become brittle spring ice that will not hold anyone’s weight," cautioned SUH executive director Kristiina Heinonen. The federation’s data suggest that last year 16 people drowned after the ice failed under them. So far this year, three people have died.
Many rescues in Oulu
Heinonen said that different people have varying tolerance levels for cold water but in general it takes mere minutes for hypothermia to strike. She advised people who fall through the ice to remain calm and to begin to call for help. "At the same time you should try to get out of the water on your own, because you will not have the capacity to act for long," she added.
"If anyone feels that they absolutely need to go out on the ice, they should wear a dry suit; it’s the only thing that will withstand the cold."
On Friday, Oulu rescue officials said they were called out to assist many people who found themselves in trouble on the ice. Ice fishers ended up in the water in Liminganlahti, while skiers went under in Virpiniemi.
"In Oulu ice on the land side is thinning more rapidly because there are rivers creating openings," the FMI’s Tollman explained.