Several days of above-freezing temperatures and abundant sunshine have led to deteriorating ice conditions across the state. With kids out of school for holiday break and many people hoping to head onto the ice, the DNR warns people about ice conditions, reminds parents to stay with their kids near the ice and urges anyone who rides an ATV or snowmobile to take the weight of the vehicle into account.

When is ice safe?

According to the DNR, 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.

There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.

Did you know?

• 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.

What if you fall in?

What should you do if you fall through the ice?

• First, try not to panic. This may be easier said than done, unless you have worked out a survival plan in advance. Read through these steps so that you can be prepared. 

• Don't remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes won't drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.

• Turn toward the direction you came. That’s probably the strongest ice.

• Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface. This is where a pair of nails, sharpened screwdrivers or ice picks come in handy in providing the extra traction you need to pull yourself up onto the ice.

• Kick your feet and dig in your ice picks to work your way back onto the solid ice. If your clothes have trapped a lot of water, you may have to lift yourself partially out of the water on your elbows to let the water drain before starting forward.

• Lie flat on the ice once you are out and roll away from the hole to keep your weight spread out. This may help prevent you from breaking through again.

• Get to a warm, dry, sheltered area and re-warm yourself immediately. In moderate to severe cases of cold water hypothermia, you must seek medical attention. Cold blood trapped in your extremities can come rushing back to your heart after you begin to re-warm. The shock of the 
chilled blood may cause ventricular fibrillation leading to a heart attack and death.

 General ice safety information is available on the DNR Web site at mndnr.gov.

Photo courtesy of the DNR Web site