Ice skating and winter weather not always the perfect pair

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The ice skating rink at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids Thursday was closed for arctic weather. Image: Andrew Blok

By Andrew Blok

The recent stretch of arctic weather has claimed one surprising casualty: ice skating.

Cold weather, usually a boon for outdoor ice rinks, has forced many throughout the Great Lakes region to close.

All Chicago Parks District outdoor rinks were closed January Tuesday through Thursday due to extreme weather, according to the district’s website.

Similar statements appeared on websites for parks in areas as diverse as Belvidere, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin; Carmel, Indiana and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It’s not worth risking the safety of staff or skaters, said John Judnich, recreation supervisor for parks and recreation in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Wind chills below 10 degrees causes the cancellation of ice skating lessons at the Merrifield Ice Rink in Mishawaka, Indiana, said Andrea Lemna, the rink’s director. Below zero closes the rink.

The Pickle Pond rink in Marshfield, Wisconsin, reports that it closes when the wind chill is -20 degrees or colder.

No rigid standard dictates when cold weather shuts down the rink at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, Judnich said. He takes into account advisories from the National Weather Service.

The winter storm warning issued Tuesday for western Michigan warned that  wind chill could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes and reach 40 degrees below zero.

That’s well below the temperature when Judnich starts to consider closing the rink.

“We start looking very closely when we hit zero,” he said.

That’s not often. Judnich estimates it happens once a year. In recent years he’s more often closed for warm weather.

Back-to-back closures for cold weather are unusual, but on Thursday the Grand Rapids rink remained closed for the fourth straight day.

An extended closure is better than a dangerous situation. Judnich said patrons don’t always recognize how dangerous the cold can be.

So, it’s safety first, even if cold weather and ice skating seem the perfect pair.

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