As weather warms, people urged to stay off the ice


MICHIGAN — With the recent thaw across the state, area residents are being warned of the dangers of venturing out on the ice.

“Thawing ice conditions on Michigan’s lakes, rivers and ponds are dangerous and will become unpredictable as temperatures rise,” said State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer in a press release from the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs office.

First responders across the state have responded to numerous calls as people and animals fall through the ice during the changing conditions during late winter and early spring, according to the release. Using makeshift bridges to get onto ice or across a crack increases the risk.

“We ask parents and pet owners to keep children and pets off the ice as the melt begins,” Sehlmeyer said. “Always call 911 to report individuals and pets in the water needing to be rescued. Nearly 85 percent of ice rescue emergency 911 calls are a result of individuals trying to save a pet who fell through the ice.”

There have already been numerous reports of fisherman being rescued after either falling through the ice, or after ice broke away on the Saginaw Bay.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Recreational Safety Programs Supervisor Lt. Tom Wanless said even if ice looks safe, it could be dangerous.

“Don’t assume the ice is safe just because a lake or stream looks frozen,” he said “There are several factors that can determine the strength of the ice. Understanding and recognizing these factors, as well as using common sense and caution, will allow you to have a more enjoyable outdoor experience and to make it home safely.”

Wanless offered the following tips in a press release from the DNR.

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.

He added that people who do walk onto a frozen lake or river should always wear a life jacket and bring colors. They should also carry a cellphone and a set of ice picks or ice claws.

People should not take a car, truck or snowmobile on the ice, Wanless said.

LARA suggests that people who fall in the ice should not thrash, and instead remember the 1-10-1 principle according to University of Manitoba Professor Gordon Giesbrecht. Get control of your breathing in the first minute. The next 10 minutes is your window of meaningful movement to escape. Finally you’ll have about one hour to escape or be rescued before you lose consciousness.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers the following tips for people if they do fall through the ice:

Try to remain calm.

Don’t remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.

Turn in the water toward the direction you came from — that is probably the strongest ice.

If you have them, dig the points of the ice picks into the ice and, while vigorously kicking your feet, pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.

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, heat, dry clothing and warm, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated drinks.

Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering, or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia (the life-threatening drop in the body's core temperature).

Sehlmeyer said a person cannot judge or guess ice thickness or safety, especially in late winter and early spring. People should watch out for thin ice conditions that can hide cracks and weak spots, including slushy ice, any ice with water on it or snow covered ice.

If ice has thawed and refrozen, it will appear milky in color. Ice will become thinner and more dangerous as the snow melts, and water currents and increased water flow can speed up the melting process.

“If you do see an emergency on the ice or near bodies of water, always call 911 first,” Sehlmeyer said. “First responders are trained and equipped for ice and water rescues, including the rescue of pets. We want to remind the public how dangerous thawing bodies of water can be.”


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