Snowmobilers, anglers and others who will be outdoors during the winter are reminded of ice safety tips, especially as temperatures fluctuate in Michigan.
Changing temperatures and other factors can affect the strength of ice. Anyone walking onto a frozen body of water is advised to wear a life jacket and bright colors, carry a cell phone, and bring a set of ice picks or ice claws.
Lt. Tom Wanless, a program supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources, offered safety tips for those who will be on ice, as well as what to do if you break through ice.
Ice safety tips
- You can’t always determine the strength of ice simply by its look, its thickness, the temperature or whether the ice is covered with snow. New ice generally is stronger than old ice. While a couple of inches of new, clear ice may be strong enough to support a person, a foot of old ice riddled with air bubbles may not.
- Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest. Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and often is porous and weak.
- Ice covered by snow always should be presumed unsafe. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process, making the ice thinner and weaker.
- If there is slush on the ice, stay off. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice no longer is freezing from the bottom.
- Be especially cautious in areas where air temperatures have fluctuated. A warm spell may take several days to weaken the ice. But when temperatures vary widely, causing ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night, the result is a weak, spongy or honeycombed ice that is unsafe.
- The DNR does not recommend the standard “inch-thickness” guide used by many outdoor enthusiasts to determine ice safety. A minimum of 4 inches of clear ice is needed to support an average person’s weight, but since ice seldom forms at a uniform rate it is important to check the thickness with a spud and ruler every few steps.
- Deep inland lakes take longer to freeze than shallow lakes. Ice cover on lakes with strong currents or chain-of-lakes systems also is more unpredictable.
- Ice near shore tends to be much weaker because of shifting, expansion and heat from sunlight reflecting off the bottom. If there’s ice on the lake but water around the shoreline, proceed with caution. Avoid areas with protruding logs, brush, plants and docks as they can absorb heat from the sun and weaken the surrounding ice.
What to do if you fall through ice
- Try to remain calm.
- Don’t remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but they can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.
- Turn your body toward the direction you came from, as that ice is probably the strongest.
- If you have ice picks or ice claws, dig their points into the ice while vigorously kicking your feet and pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.
- Once out of the water, roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
- Get to shelter, warm yourself, change into dry clothing and consume nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated drinks.
- Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or notice any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia.