Behind the Lens: river ice

Ausable River Ice Jam
Ice on the West Branch of the Ausable River near Monument Falls on Friday, January 12, 2018.

Some places are natural fits for photography and videography. The West Branch of the Ausable River is one of those places. There are waterfalls and scenic backdrops that provide great opportunities for landscape photography. There are also seasons when you can capture fly fishermen wading through its waters. Or paddlers crashing through whitewater and floating the flatwater sections.

But one of the most interesting (and dangerous) times is when the river ice breaks up during a thaw. We’re getting to the point of winter when you start to wonder about ice out on the river. Will there be a gradual thaw that will result in fewer ice jams or will the river break up after one big storm and wreak havoc?

I got a sense of how much devastation the river ice can cause on a late winter day about 15 years ago. That day I was driving through Au Sable Forks on the way to Peru to look for a snowy owl with a birding friend. We didn’t see any owls that day, but the size of the river ice piled alongside the Ausable River was extraordinary. The chunks of ice were the length of trucks and one to two feet thick. They were piled alongside the shore.

Since then, I’ve paid more attention to ice jams along both the east and west branches of the Ausable River, which nearby residents have to do on a nearly annual basis. About three years ago, I experienced what the river can be like after a quick warm-up and heavy rain. The deadly-cold river was churning and large chunks of ice were floating down stream. You can see the ice in the videos below.

Two years ago, I took video of the aftermath of an ice jam along the Ausable’s East Branch. That video, which was shot in mid-March in Upper Jay, can be seen below.

March is just about a week away. I wonder what Mother Nature has in store for us this year. One thing is for sure. Plenty of people will be paying attention.

Behinds the Lens is a regular column by multimedia reporter Mike Lynch about photography and his assignments. It appears the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month.

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