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An Echo Press Editorial: Teach kids about ice dangers

Talk to your children about ice – now.

The ice is slowly building on some Douglas County area lakes, making them look like a winter wonderland of fun. But they also invite danger, especially for young children who don’t realize just how risky it is to venture out on thin ice.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sent out a warning about the dangers of ice and urged parents to pass the message on to their children. The agency noted that ice thickness varies greatly on lakes, ponds and rivers throughout the state. Some water bodies have none, while others have several inches.

“Ice, especially early ice with snow cover, is extremely deceptive because you can’t see dangerous cracks or the thickness of the ice under the snow,” said DNR Conservation Officer Adam Block. “Parents need to teach their kids that ice is never 100 percent safe. If your child is near the ice, you should be near your child.”

The DNR pointed out that with many children out of school for holiday breaks, they may look toward newly forming ice for entertainment.

“In addition to checking conditions locally and being prepared with an ice safety kit, anyone recreating on ice should be wearing a life jacket or float coat,” said Lisa Dugan, DNR recreation safety outreach coordinator. “A life jacket is the one piece of equipment that increases your odds of not drowning from cold water shock, hypothermia or exhaustion should you fall through the ice.”

No ice can ever be considered “safe ice,” but following these guidelines from the DNR can help minimize the risk:

  • Always wear a life jacket on the ice (except when in a vehicle).
  • Children should never be unsupervised around ice.
  • Caution 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 or ice covered with heavy snow.
Did you know?

The DNR also provided some “did you know” information about ice:

  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly-formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially-thawed ice may not.
  • Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away.
  • Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice on outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.
  • The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.
  • Booming and cracking ice isn't necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.
  • Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.

For more information about ice and cold water dangers, visit mndnr.gov/icesafety and mndnr.gov/boatingsafety.