Freaky Frazil

Last week a half dozen homes were flooded on Lower Park Street in Malone. A January thaw was only part of the problem. Frazil ice took the blame for forcing the Salmon River over its banks.

“The river becomes almost slushy, it’s been so cold for so long, and the frazil ice just plugs the channel of the river,” Franklin County emergency services director Ricky Provost told North Country Public Radio’s Julie Grant.

Frazil ice is strange stuff. It looks like a watery Slurpee when it’s floating freely. It’s soft but very adhesive, and it can pack like cement, forming dams that quickly reroute a stream. In the Adirondacks, North Creek naturalist Evelyn Greene has observed the phenomenon most closely. It’s part of an annual spring scraping that maintains the Ice Meadows, the Nature Conservancy’s rare plant preserve on the banks of the Hudson River, near Warrensburg. With warming temperatures, the timing of melt pulses are less predictable. Rivers are experiencing more midwinter ice movement and floods.

A video from Yosemite National Park is a wonderful illustration of frazil in motion. It’s also mesmerizing.

If you’re interested in other kinds of ice, NASA scientist Peter Wasilewski will present a program on Adirondack ice at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Wild Center, in Tupper Lake.

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