Changing weather creating unpredictable ice conditions

Due to widely variable weather conditions across much of the state, ice is deteriorating rapidly and creating potentially dangerous conditions for anglers, snowmobilers, skiers and others planning to recreate on the ice over the holidays.

According to recreation safety specialists with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, ice that formed quickly during the recent sub-zero temperatures is now thawing and refreezing, which leads to extremely weak ice that is dangerously deceptive.

“The calendar nor air temperatures can be used as indicators of ice thickness or safety,” said Lisa Dugan, DNR recreation safety outreach coordinator. “There are many variables to consider, including whether a waterbody has a current or run-off, the freeze-thaw cycle, and snow cover. River have been especially problematic, as water levels have continued to drop even after surface ice formed, creating dangerous air pockets under the ice.”

A layer of insulating snow, coupled with above-average temperatures, means new ice takes longer to form, Dugan explained, adding that ice that has thawed and refrozen is only half as strong as new, clear ice.

Conservation officers across the state are reporting vehicles, snowmobiles and ATVs going through the ice on lakes where ice may be relatively thick in one area, with as little as 4-5 inches nearby.

“No ice should ever be considered 100 percent safe, and checking ice thickness every 150 feet is imperative when on notoriously inconsistent early ice,” said Lt. Lisa Kruse. “Ice-related fatalities have averaged just under four per year over the past five ice seasons. Half of those deaths occurred with someone operating a snowmobile or ATV. Side-by-sides are becoming more popular, and weigh much more than a typical ATV, so more ice is needed than operators may realize.”

The cold facts about ice:

You can’t judge ice conditions by appearance or thickness – other factors including water depth, size of waterbody, currents, snow cover, and local weather all combine to determine its strength.

Ice seldom freezes uniformly- it may be 9 inches thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away.

Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous – ice along streams, springs, and channels between lakes, bridges or aeration systems is usually weaker due to faster current.

“The best present you can give your family and friends this holiday season is your presence. Think twice before going out on unsafe ice,” Dugan said.