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Why shelf ice on Lake Michigan is deceiving

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- The shelf ice along Silver Beach in St. Joe on Friday looked incredible, but it’s simply too dangerous to climb.

If you weren’t there to see it, picture a mini mountain range stretched across the shoreline of St. Joe’s popular beach.

It’s called shelf ice. And it forms as some of Lake Michigan’s waves come to a screeching halt in the bitter cold.

But Berrien County Parks Director Brian Bailey said, despite what it may look like, not all of the water freezes.

“They do look like [mini mountains],” he said. “But you can take one step farther and there could be just a small area covered with snow and it’s a void all the way down to the water. And then you don’t know how deep that water you’re in – if you’re in a foot of water or six, eight feet – and if you fell in, you could actually go right underneath the ice.”

Bailey said the shelf ice does not form uniformly because water is constantly flowing underneath it.

He said fresh snow often covers up cracks and voids that could prove deadly, because if you fall in, it’s unlikely you’ll make it out alive.

Bailey recommends admiring the beauty from behind the snow fences that are set up along the beach.

They act as markers because it’s hard to tell in the winter where the beach ends and where the water begins.

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