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Use Caution When Heading Onto the Ice

January 14, 2014

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Andrew Rosenthal

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January is a great time to head outside and do some ice fishing, skating and hockey. However, care must be taken to assure that the ice is safe and thick.

The recent cold snap caused many lakes and rivers across the northern tier of the U.S. to freeze, making them magnets of winter fun. Before you step out onto the ice, government Natural Resource Department guidelines recommend using these rules of thumb:

For newly formed, "clear ice," Never step out if the ice is less than 2 inches thick. If you`re not sure, don`t try.

  • A minimum thickness of 4 inches is recommended for walking on ice
  • Five inches is recommended if you are going by snowmobile onto the ice
  • A car or small pickup requires at least 8 inches of ice
  • A medium or large truck should have 12 to 15 inches of ice.

Several factors can lead to thinning of the ice. Milder weather or bright sunshine can cause the ice to have weakened somewhat. In addition, a moving body of water, such as a river or large lake will be more prone to thinning of the ice pack. Double these above guidelines if the ice has been in place for a while, and avoid spots that appear to have cracks in the ice.

How do you know if the ice is thick enough? One option is check your state`s Department of Natural Resources website, as they often provide updates for major bodies of water. Also, check with your favorite local outdoor or bait shop. If you`re planning to drill into the ice, test the thickness yourself with an ice chisel or even a cordless 1/4-inch drill and a tape measure.

Falling into near-freezing water can be extremely dangerous. The extremely cold temperatures of the water will cause your metabolic rate to slow, increasing the chance of drowning as you struggle to stay afloat. This can be worsened in a river, where the under-ice current remains.

If you do fall into the water, follow these tips:

  • Don`t remove any clothing. The heavy clothes can trap air and provide warmth and floatation.
  • Turn toward the direction you came from. This is usually the direction of the stronger ice.
  • Use anything sharp you`re holding to try to gain traction to pull out of the water.
  • If you`re trying to help someone get out of the water, it`s best not to run up to the edge of the hole and pull the person out. Chances are, you`ll slip or the ice will break, and then there`s two people in the water.

Make a little preparation before you head outside this winter, and you won`t end up on thin ice. Also, be sure to download the WeatherBug app on your mobile phone so you`re prepared for changing weather conditions while out having some winter fun. Share pictures of your winter fun with fellow WeatherBug users by going to the "Photo" tile on your mobile device or clicking here.

Be sure to keep WeatherBug active to receive the latest weather in your neighborhood and get the latest updates anywhere on Twitter.

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Story Image: Winter fun can be easily found on ice if a little caution is taken to make sure the ice is thick enough. (Wikimedia Commons)

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