Gary Russell remembers when Norton Reservoir used to freeze over regularly in the winter and the body of water was full of people ice fishing.
This has certainly not been the case this winter.
“The last three years plus there’s been a lack of ice,” said Russell, who grew up on the reservoir.
“It’s not like the old days,” he said. “We would ice fish all the time. Years ago there were ice fishing tournaments. You don’t see that anymore.”
Russell is the manager of the Produce Barn on Mansfield Avenue (Route 140), which is next to the reservoir.
And luckily, the store this winter started stocking ice fishing gear to sell for the first time.
“We haven’t sold too many yet,” Russell said. “In the summer, we started selling bait and fresh tackle and were hoping to have a good winter.”
However, “As soon as we get ice for a day or two, it warms up or it rains and it goes away,” he said.
In addition to ice fishing, something else has been distinctly missing this winter season: ice skating on the area’s frozen waterways.
Russell observed a neighbor and daughter at the reservoir skating near the shore behind the store, but only one day this winter.
Doubly frustrating for skaters and those who enjoy winter fishing is that not much snow has fallen this year. It is snow that they would have had to clear the ponds and lakes before putting on their skates and dropping their fishing lines, if the waterways had frozen over.
This year has been one of the warmest Januarys on record. The average daily low was 30, well above the typical 19, the Attleboro Water Department reported.
In fact, the lowest temperature for the month didn’t even reach the average low, coming in at 22. The average daily high was 44, also well above the typical 36, water department records show. The highest temperature was 57.
Norton Kayak Company on Mansfield Avenue and Norton Reservoir are also closed due to the weather.
“It’s been a strange winter,” said chief operating officer Dave Lennon. “Some disappointed customers wanted to go ice fishing. Personally, I also love going out on the reservoir just to skate and fish.”
Although primarily a seasonal warm weather business, Norton Kayak offers ice fishing programs.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had no ice,” Lennon said. “Only once in the last 5 or 6 years has Norton (Reservoir) completely frozen over for ice skating and ice fishing.”
Lennon said he moved to Norton in 1991 and can remember ice every year at the reservoir from the 1990s to 2010.
“We’ve canceled a lot of ice fishing programs the last few years. Hopefully, it’s just a weather cycle and not something that continues,” Lennon said. “A lot of residents use Norton Reservoir for recreation year-round. When there’s ice, there’s a lot of people out there.”
Attleboro Recreation does not offer outdoor programs except for skating at Finberg Field.
“You can’t count on a cold spell long enough to keep the ice frozen,” Recreation Director Dennis Walsh said. “Looks like last January was the same … but February will match it.”
This is the first year Seekonk has installed an outdoor rink next to city hall, but the lack of cold temperatures isn’t a problem.
“The outdoor rink doesn’t flood for us. It’s a synthetic material that doesn’t need to be flooded,” Parks and Recreation Coordinator Erica Harris-Grimes said.
“Usage has been fantastic,” he said. “We’re encouraged by the numbers we’re seeing out there.”
The rink opened in December and is only open during the day.
“I’ve seen a bunch of teenagers/younger adults playing that play hockey and younger kids,” said Kristen L’Heureux, administrative assistant in the town manager/selectman’s office.
Patriot Place has had a popular outdoor rink in recent years, but not this year. However, the absence of the track has nothing to do with the weather.
“Construction on the most dramatic improvements to Gillette Stadium since it opened in 2002 began on the north end of the stadium last year,” spokeswoman Julia Pagliarulo said via email. “Given this ongoing construction and its extended footprint throughout our property, Winter Skate at Patriot Place will not be operating this season. We look forward to welcoming skaters back to Winter Skate in the future.”
Despite the brutal polar cold that arrived on Friday, the ice that forms is not expected to be safe for skating or fishing, as the cold weather is not expected to last.
After dipping below zero Friday night and Saturday, with temperatures below zero, Sunday is expected to reach a high in the mid-40s.
“Due to the rapid temperature fluctuations this winter, unless we have an extended cold spell for more than a few weeks, there will be no ice for sure,” said Mansfield Fire Chief Justin Desrosiers.
“I don’t remember such a warm winter in my history,” said Desrosiers. “I remember when we were kids we could play ice hockey almost all winter, but that hasn’t been possible for a long time.”
There are some upsides to the unseasonably warm temperatures for most of this winter.
“The neighbors are happy that it’s not cold because heating costs have increased this year,” added Desrosiers.
The lack of ice in the area’s waters has meant few “ice” rescues by firefighters and a lack of opportunities for such training.
Mansfield firefighters have conducted water rescue drills over the summer, but have not been able to have training on ice.
“We did a goose rescue,” said Norton Fire Chief Shawn Simmons. “Since then, the only water rescue we’ve done was a partially submerged car in Norton Reservoir with an occupant who needed help.”
This person was not injured.
“All of our shifts have completed annual cold water rescue training, but obviously we weren’t able to do ice rescue training this year,” Simmons said, adding that both types of rescues involve similar techniques.
The Norton Fire Department does not recommend using a standard “inch thick” guideline to determine ice safety. A minimum of 4 inches of clear ice is the generally accepted standard requirement to support the average weight of a person on the ice.
“The only safe ice is on a skating rink,” Foxboro Fire Capt. Andrew Puntini said. “If residents must venture onto the ice, we urge them to use extreme caution and research some safe ice practices before heading out, and be sure to let someone know where you’re going and the expected weather at home. Due to of underwater currents and other factors, it is difficult or impossible to predict the true thickness of the ice.”
City firefighters train annually for ice rescue. With no ice, the four shifts in December conducted equipment checks and simulations at the fire station, Puntini said.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had any ice rescues yet this season,” Puntini said. “We are in more intense states in response to these incidents when we start to see ice forming and again when the climate warms making the ice less safe.”