Cold Weather Temporarily Freezes Smith Island Away from the World

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Courtesy Maryland DNR/Twitter

The blast of Arctic weather this week hasn’t been enjoyable for most around the state (save for the kids getting out of school on the Eastern Shore), but for dwellers of Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay, it was particularly isolating.

To get to Smith Island, known to most Marylanders as the home for the official state dessert, one needs to either take a ferry or be airlifted. The former option is the primary method used by the island’s fewer than 300 residents. But when persistently frigid temperatures strike, that option can disappear.

The Delmarva Times reports residents woke yesterday morning to find boats couldn’t get through a thick sheet of ice that had formed around the island and in the harbor of the nearby port of Crisfield. Luckily for them, the good folks at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources were ready. The newspaper reports the DNR sent its 100-foot ice-cutting vessel, named the J. Millard Tawes, to break up the 2-3-inches of ice in Crisfield and around the perimeter of the island. According to the agency, the ice-cutter did the trick, opening up the path for boats and delivery of supplies.

John Gallagher, director of hydrographic operations for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Fishing and Boating Services department, said it’s fairly common for the Crisfield harbor and Smith Island to have problems with ice, though it varies from year to year. When a thick sheet of ice does develop, it can become “impassable” for boats, he said. “Two to three inches of ice is too much for the ferry boats that support the island.”

Those boats, all of which are privately operated, include mail carriers and school boats dropping off students, Gallagher said.

Gallagher said Maryland DNR has four ice-breaking vessels in total. In addition to helping the somewhat isolated folks in that part of the Chesapeake, the department also sends them to the mouth of the Wicomico River near Salisbury to make way in the ice for barges carrying fuel and to assist the Coast Guard elsewhere.

For the hundreds of residents of Smith Island, there’s good news: Temperatures are set to increase frighteningly quickly for the rest of the week. By Thursday, the high will hit nearly 60 degrees, according to the Weather Channel. That should eliminate any remaining pesky ice blocking boat travel in the Chesapeake.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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