Sheriff's Corner: Never too early for ice safety reminder

With the unseasonably warm and nice fall that we have enjoyed, the topic of early ice conditions safety is probably not on the first thing on our minds. However with changing temperatures and freezing occurring, ice is coming. It is hard to belie...

With the unseasonably warm and nice fall that we have enjoyed, the topic of early ice conditions safety is probably not on the first thing on our minds. However with changing temperatures and freezing occurring, ice is coming. It is hard to believe a year ago at this time folks were venturing out on area lakes-not only on foot, but also with utility vehicles, larger fish houses and full size fish houses around Thanksgiving. Each year is definitely different and this year we won't have those early good conditions, but ice will be forming. We often get calls at the sheriff's office about ice safety and specifically if ice is safe on a particular lake or location. These are tough questions to answer as we honestly don't know, especially since conditions can change rapidly and daily. There really is no sure answer. You can't judge the strength of ice just by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature or whether or not the ice is covered with snow. Strength is based on all these factors-plus the depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, water chemistry and currents, the distribution of the load on the ice and local climatic conditions. As we venture from open water fishing and recreation to ice conditions we want to address ice safety, especially safety during early ice conditions when conditions are very vulnerable and people are excited to do some fishing or recreating, especially around the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The Cass County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota DNR would like to remind about the following safety tips regarding ice and travelling on the ice.

• 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 two 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.

While traveling on ice the following guidelines can help you survive a potential threatening situation.

• Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop.

• Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit.

• Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.

• If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry--keep windows down and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.


• Stay away from alcoholic beverages.

• Even "just a couple of beers" are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.

• Don't "overdrive" your snowmobile or utility vehicle's headlight.

• At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.

• Wear a life vest under your winter gear.

• Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers. It's amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken, but wet and slippery ice while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water. The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice. Caution: Do not wear a flotation device when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle!

The last item I would like to address about thin ice situations is animals on the ice. We often get calls about dogs or other animals that have ventured out onto thin ice and are in need of rescue. The most important thing for all dog owners at this time of year, as ice is thinning and the danger is greatest, is to keep your dog on leash around any partially frozen body of water. If you do let your dog off-leash, be sure you have sufficiently trained your dog so you can call him or her away from danger before it's too late. Never go out on thin ice areas to rescue your dog or animal. This could put you and rescuers in a very dangerous and life threatening position.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: by email at ; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; by mail/in person at Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box No. 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

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