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Our Opinion: Stay safe on the ice

We're sure many ice anglers are tired of hearing the warning that there is no such thing as completely safe ice.

But that admonishment has been tragically proven true this past month. On Monday an Ironton man died after his snowmobile went through the ice on Serpent Lake in Crosby. Before that, on Nov. 26, two people died after the ATV they were on went through the ice on Upper Red Lake.

These, along with numerous other reports of vehicles and people falling through the ice, are sobering reminders of the dangers of venturing out on area lakes at this time of the year.

Yes, there are reports of good ice—up to 8 inches or more—on area lakes and anglers every day are venturing out to catch their quarry. We're not saying no one should be out on lakes, we're only asking those who do take every precaution to protect themselves. It's not just the safety of the anglers at risk here, it's the safety of emergency personnel who will be responding in the case someone goes through the ice.

The ice clearly isn't consistent just yet. Though we've had a streak of below freezing temperatures that are good for making ice, it wasn't that long ago that we had an unseasonable streak of above freezing temperatures.

The DNR's guidelines for new, clear ice are as follows: 2 inches of ice or less, stay off; 4 inches, ice fishing or other activities on foot; 5 inches, snowmobile or ATVs; 8-12 inches, car of small pickup; 12-15 inches, medium trucks.

If you do head out onto the ice, the DNR also offers these tips: Check with local resorts and bait shops about ice conditions and hazards; tell someone of your plans; bring an ice safety kit that includes ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and a tape measure; and wear a life jacket, except when in a vehicle.

Other worthy information from the DNR includes:

• New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly‑formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially‑thawed ice may not.

• Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or 2 just a few feet away.

• Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice on outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.

• The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.

• Booming and cracking ice isn't necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.

• Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.

Ice, like fishing, is unpredictable. Plan ahead, be careful and keep your lines tight while enjoying one of Minnesota's great outdoor traditions.

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