Folks already have been traipsing out on the ice, but it’s too soon to do so, experts say.
“We have reports of people being out on the ice, and not always in places where we would recommend it,” said Nicole Biagi, ice safety coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources in the Twin Cities. “We recommend waiting for 4 inches of new, clear ice.
“It can be hard to get yourself out of the water if you fall through ice that is thinner than 4 inches. This is a really important time to talk about ice safety.”
Ice thickness is varied around the state right now, Biagi said, and in some places it is getting thick enough to walk on. But conditions can change quickly, especially in areas with moving water or on windy days. Temperatures also climbed into the upper 40s on Wednesday in southern Minnesota.
Biagi suggests always having a tape measure to gauge ice thickness. And if you take to the ice, be prepared.
“The most important safety gear to have is a float coat or a life jacket that will keep you from sinking,” Biagi said. “When you fall into cold water, it causes you to gasp so the most common cause of fatality with falling through the ice is drowning, not hypothermia.
“That’s where having that buoyant gear is the most important thing you can do to prevent through-the-ice fatality incidents,” she said. “Wear an ice pick around your neck so you can have it ready if you do fall through. But definitely be patient and wait for 4 inches of solid ice.”
In addition to outfitting yourself with the proper safety gear, Biagi urges those who venture outdoors to let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return.
Lt. Jim Othoudt with the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office said the recommendations for being on the ice are, as Biagi said, 4 inches for walking. Then it’s 5 inches for a snowmobile or ATV, 8 to 12 inches for a small pickup or car and 12 to 15 inches for a medium truck.
“Those are the recommendations and generally they’re a pretty good guide,” he said. “We all know that there really isn’t anything that you can call safe ice because you can be driving on it and in one spot it’s 15 inches and then all of a sudden it’s only 8 inches. What I’m saying is you can never assume all ice is safe. It can be totally different across the lake.”
Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy Nick Greenig said he hasn’t received any reports yet of people being on the ice. There’s still a lot of open water in the county, he said.
“The majority of the lakes are still open, especially with impending warm weather this weekend,” he said. “I suspect the ice that’s open will open up even more.”
Biagi suggests parents talk to their kids about ice safety, especially those who live near small ponds and retention ponds and who might be lured out onto the ice prematurely.
“Kids are naturally curious and this is the time of year where we see tragedy with young kids or teenagers who don’t understand the risks,” she said. “So teaching your kids and telling them not to go out onto the ice without an adult is especially important right now.”