CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire Fish and Game Department officials warn that this winter’s uneven temperatures and high winds have affected ice formation, particularly on the state’s larger lakes. Fish and Game is urging those heading out onto the ice to exercise caution as they do so. A large number of anglers are expected to head out onto the state’s lakes and ponds this weekend to participate in the Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby (February 8-9, 2014).
A recent aerial survey of Lake Winnipesaukee by the N.H. Civil Air Patrol revealed treacherous ice conditions on some parts of the big lake, including an area of open water near Welch Island. To view the aerial photo of Lake Winnipesaukee taken on January 25, 2014, visit http://www.wildnh.com/Newsroom/2014/Q1/ice_safety_013014.html.
“Caution is in order for those going out onto the ice, especially on the large lakes,” said Fish and Game Lt. James Goss. “Don’t let the cold temperatures fool you – some areas that have traditionally been safe for ice anglers and other outdoor recreationists are not safe this year. We are urging people to check the ice thickness for yourself before you go out onto any frozen waterbody.”
Because of the unpredictable ice conditions, it is not advisable to drive vehicles onto the ice, Goss said. Those on foot should carefully assess ice safety before venturing out by using an ice chisel or auger to determine ice thickness and condition. Continue to do this as you get further out on to the ice, because the thickness of the ice will not be uniform all over the waterbody.
Fisheries Biologist Don Miller notes, “Even though the winter of 2013-2014 has been cold so far, ice conditions on Lake Winnipesaukee are highly variable. One area of note where extreme caution should be exercised extends from Lakeshore Park in Gilford, east to Welch Island and across to Long Island, Moultonborough. The area extends south to Diamond and Rattlesnake islands and west to the Gilford shore line. This includes the vicinity commonly referred to as “the Broads.” While caution should be exercised on the ice at all times, this area of Winnipesauke has seen very poor ice conditions consistently over the past few years. Extreme caution should be used in this area.”
As shown in the aerial photo, even travel along the shore line south of Lakeshore Park is not recommended.
Though all ice is potentially dangerous, the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., offers a “rule of thumb” on ice thickness: There should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel, and eight to ten inches of hard ice for snow machine or All-Terrain Vehicle travel.
Keep in mind that thick ice does not always mean safe ice. It is possible for ice to be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions. Weak ice is formed when warming trends break down ice, then the slushy surface re-freezes. Be especially careful of areas with current, such as inlets, outlets and spring holes, where the ice can be dangerously thin.
Tips for staying safe on the ice include:
• Stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy. Don’t go on the ice during thaws.
• Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots.
• Small bodies of water tend to freeze thicker. Rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weaken ice.
• Don’t gather in large groups or drive large vehicles onto the ice.
• If you do break through the ice, don’t panic. Move or swim back to where you fell in, where you
know the ice was solid. Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. A set of ice picks can help you pull yourself out if you do fall through the ice; wear them around your neck or put them in an easily accessible pocket. Once out of the water, roll away from the hole until you reach solid ice.
Ice safety is also very important for snowmobilers. Don’t assume a trail is safe just because it exists; ask about trail conditions at local snowmobile clubs or sporting goods shops before you go.
To download a brochure from Fish and Game called “Safety on Ice – Tips for Anglers,” visit http://www.wildnh.com/Outdoor_Recreation/ice_safety.html.