Thin ice

Despite the advent of below-zero temperatures, Minnesotans should remain cautious when heading out on the ice.

With the advent of some honest-to-goodness below-zero temperatures next week it’s a good bet that a lot of Minnesotans will be making ice fishing plans.

The Department of Natural Resources has a lot of experience with lake ice. The early days of December usually sees the DNR trumpeting warnings about keeping children off the ice. It is not an idle warning and pertains to more than children. 

Local DNR conservation officer Troy Richards was called to Heidelberger Lake Thursday because someone thought a deer had gone through the ice. It turned out to be a different situation than reported but it brought up a point many do not consider.

“It’s a very dangerous time for wildlife,” Richards said Friday. 

Many might consider a bullet, arrow or vehicle to be the biggest threat a deer faces in early December, but a fall into open water can also be fatal. That can go for other big animals as well, and for pets, and for adults. 

Richards has been on his guard since the firearm deer hunting season when a cold snap made ice on many shallow and protected lakes. 

“At deer hunting time we had some ice that seemed pretty good,” Richards observed.

That early freeze prompted some anglers to fish the narrows of Pelican Lake near Ashby according to Richards. Yet they found their fishing ice was only temporary. The popular spot had to be abandoned when the lake opened again.

The Otter County Sheriff’s Office received a report in the final week of November of a fishing shelter pushed out on Rush Lake south of Perham.  

Since the firearms deer season ended Nov. 17 a considerable number of lakes in Richards’ area have sported open water. Strong winds have kept portions of many lakes from making ice.

Ice does not form to a uniform depth on lakes and the winter of 2019-20 has started dangerously.   

The Nov. 30-Dec. 1 snowstorm that hit west-central Minnesota dumped between 8 and 12 inches of snow around Otter Tail County. 

‘That’s a lot of insulation,” Richards commented. 

Where baby ice was beginning to form the weight of the heavy snow started flooding on the lakes. Large gray areas can now be seen on the lakes - a telltale sign of flooding under the snow and weak ice.


DNR Ice Safety Guidelines

No ice can ever be considered “safe ice,” but following these guidelines can minimize your risk while on it:

• Always wear a life jacket on the ice (except when in a vehicle).

• Children need to be supervised when they are near the ice.

• Warn children to stay off ponds, streams, and other bodies of water.

• A thin coating of ice on a pond or lake does not mean it is safe.

• Check ice thickness at regular intervals – conditions can change quickly.

• Before heading out, inquire about conditions and known hazards with local experts.

• Avoid channels and rivers.

The minimum ice thickness guidelines for new, clear ice are:

• 4 inches for ice fishing or other activities on foot.

• 5-7 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.

• 8-12 inches for a car or small pickup.

• 12-15 inches for a medium truck.

Double these minimums for white ice or ice covered with heavy snow.


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