HILLARY SMITH: Baseball, softball stuck in feet of deep freeze

2014-03-16T19:15:00Z 2014-03-16T20:56:10Z HILLARY SMITH: Baseball, softball stuck in feet of deep freezeHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

You've waited out the winter with the best of us. That baseball popping up and down in your hand is like a firecracker ready to pop.

It might have to wait a little longer, or end up a dud in the mud.

Here's what lurks just below the winter of 2014 (aka. Snowmagheddon, Never-ending Snow, End of Days): water, water everywhere. 

The National Weather Service reported Tuesday that just below the cold, hard ground is another 17 inches of colder, harder ground.

The frost later — not to be confused with "permafrost" which will be explained in a minute — is 17 inches, deeper than in recent memory.

Here's what it means right now:

"That's almost a foot and a half of frozen ground below the surface," said Andrew Krein, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "So water is pooling on top of that now, because when the ground is frozen it can't soak into the ground. It just sits on top and puddles and makes a muddy mess."

The problem that Krein continued to explain isn't about the days when it rains. It's when it doesn't.

When the weather is nice, say around 40-50 degrees, the 17 inches of frozen ground will start to melt. Gravity doesn't pull the water down, but instead it rises up.

Why not sink down, you ask. Because of the permafrost. Think of the permafrost as "permanent frost."

"Permafrost, as most people use it, it's a misnomer," Krein said. "Permafrost is a layer of frozen ground underground that stays frozen all year long. What we have is a layer of frozen ground and a sub-layer of frozen ground above and below."

So the muddy mess that the water is sitting on now will be even muddier. 

When the temperature drops below freezing at night, the frost layer stays cold. So Mother Nature will have to gift us with many days of above freezing temps for players to be able to even step on the field.

Playing in mud is more than just a dirty job. Because the mud isn't as stable as dry, solid soil, it's a breeding ground for injury.

A bad slip could mean a twisted ankle, an ACL injury or worse.

Plus, even moving the dirt around when it's mud can make for a pit-infested playing surface, because when it dries hard, it holds its mold. Footprints in the mud become a bad hop along the third-base line in a couple weeks.

Unless an artificial surface exists on, say, a football field, teams are relegated to remain inside even on the pretty days. 

Rain can be a help and a hindrance. The warmth is good to help melt the frost, but the added water has to go somewhere.

The IHSAA baseball season starts with practices today. The soonest we can hope for a full day of above-freezing temps is Friday.

The likelihood of a March 31 start date is shrinking faster than the ground below us.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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