Ice fisherman are eager to get out on the lake, but the unseasonably warm weather has made ice condition unfavorable, already claiming two lives on Upper Red Lake in Beltrami County. 

    Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe. White ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice. 

Checking ice thickness

    Before heading out on ice: Contact a local bait shop or lakeside resort to ask about ice conditions.

    Check ice thickness once you get there.

    Temperature, snow cover, currents, springs and rough fish all affect the relative safety of ice. Ice is seldom the same thickness over a single body of water; it can be two feet thick in one place and one inch thick a few yards away. Check the ice at least every 150 feet.

Ways to check ice thickness:

    Drive an ice chisel into the ice, using a stabbing motion, to create a hole. Next, measure ice thickness with a tape measure.

    After drilling a hole with an the ice auger, measure ice thickness with a tape measure.

    Use a cordless drill and a long, five-eighths inch wood auger bit and you can drill through eight inches of ice in less than 30 seconds. After drilling a hole, measure ice thickness with a measure tape. 

    Use a tape measure to find ice’s true thickness. Put the tape measure into the hole and hook the bottom edge of ice before taking measurement. You can also use an ice fisherman’s ice skimmer with inch markings on the handle in place of the tape measure.

    Don’t judge ice thickness by how easily a chisel or drill breaks the surface. It happens so quickly that it’s easy to overestimate the thickness.

    Cars, pickups or SUVs should be parked at least 50 feet apart and moved every two hours to prevent sinking.

    Tip: Make a hole next to the car. If water starts to overflow the top of the hole -  the ice is sinking and it’s time to move the vehicle.

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.

    Traveling on ice

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

    Test the thickness yourself.

    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’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. 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!

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! 

What if your vehicle breaks through?

    If your car or truck plunges through the ice, the best time to escape is before it sinks, not after. It will stay afloat a few seconds to several minutes depending on the airtightness of the vehicle.

    While the car is still afloat, the best escape hatches are the side windows since the doors may be held shut by the water pressure. If the windows are blocked, try to push the windshield or rear window out with your feet or shoulder.

    A vehicle with its engine in the front will sink at a steep angle and may land on its roof if the water is 15 feet or deeper. As the car starts its final plunge to the bottom, water rapidly displaces the remaining air. An air bubble can stay in a submerged vehicle, but it is unlikely that it would remain by the time the car hits the bottom.

    When the car is completely filled, the doors may be a little easier to open unless they are blocked by mud and silt. Remember too, chances are that the car will be upside‑down at this point! Add darkness and near freezing water, and your chances of escape have greatly diminished. This underscores the necessity of getting out of the car before it starts to sink! 

Hypothermia

    Falling into cold water can increase your chances of hypothermia.

    Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include: shivering, slurred speech, abnormally slow breathing, cold, pale skin, loss of coordination, fatigue, confusion or memory loss, bright red, cold skin (infants).

    Signs and symptoms usually develop slowly. People with hypothermia typically experience gradual loss of mental acuity and physical ability, so they may be unaware that they need emergency medical treatment.

    Call 911 or emergency medical assistance. While waiting for help to arrive, monitor the person’s breathing. If breathing stops or seems dangerously slow or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.

    Move the person out of the cold. If going indoors isn’t possible, protect the person from the wind, cover the head, and insulate the individual  from the cold ground. Carefully remove wet clothing. Replace wet things with a warm, dry covering. Don’t apply direct heat. Don’t use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the person. Instead, apply warm compresses to the center of the body — head, neck, chest and groin. 

    Don’t attempt to warm the arms and legs. Heat applied to the arms and legs forces cold blood back toward the heart, lungs and brain, causing the core body temperature to drop. This can be fatal.

    Give the person warm beverages. Don’t give the person alcohol. Handle people with hypothermia gently. Don’t massage or rub the person because their

skin may be frostbitten, and rubbing frostbitten tissue can cause severe damage. Body to body rewarming. In remote areas where assistance is delayed, practice “body to body” rewarming. Surround the victim with body heat in a sleeping bag, tent or other sheltered spot.

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