by Dennis Dalman
“But I was sure it was frozen solid and safe.”
Those are often the words of people who fall through the ice and are rescued. They are the lucky ones, the ones who survived.
The fact is, ice is never 100-percent safe, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
That is why since 1976, 250 people have died due to ice break-throughs on Minnesota lakes, rivers and other waterways. Most victims were ice-fishing enthusiasts in trucks or cars, but others include hikers, snowmobile drivers or drivers of all-terrain vehicles.
Since 1980, there have been 10 deaths caused by ice break-throughs in the Tri-County area of Stearns, Benton and Sherburne.
The good news is throughout the decades, such deaths have decreased, probably because of more education, more awareness of the dangers. In the past five years, there has been an average of about three deaths per winter season due to ice break-throughs in the state.
The strength of ice is based on several inter-related factors that include age, thickness, temperature and whether or not the ice sheet is covered by snow. But beyond those factors, other factors come into play, such as depth of water under the ice, size of the body of water, water chemistry and currents, and the distribution of the load on the ice.
All people who venture out onto ice should remember the following facts while heeding up-to-date bulletins from the DNR:
- New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice can support up to one person on foot, but older and partially thawed ice may not, even if it is thicker than a foot.
- Ice almost never freezes uniformly. It can be a foot solid in one place and just two to three inches thick just a few feet away.
- Ice that forms over currents and flowing water can be treacherously unsafe. It is important to know when venturing on ice near streams, bridges and culverts, as well as on outside river bend where there is a faster-moving current.
- Fish or flocks of waterfowl can undermine the safety of ice. The animals’ movements can cause warmer water to rise from the bottom of the lake, causing holes in the ice that can cause break-throughs by walkers, cars or snowmobiles.
- A good, all-around rule to remember is not to walk onto any body of water unless you know there is at least four inches of new, clear ice on the surface. For ATVs, the thickness of new ice should be 5 inches; for cars and small pickups 8-12 inches and for medium-sized trucks 12-15 inches.
The DNR also highly recommends always wearing a life jacket while on the ice, and an ice-safety kit containing a rope, ice picks, an ice chisel and a tape measure, should be carried with at all times. And, last but not least, always tell somebody before heading out exactly where you intend to go and when you expect to be back home.