The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

DNR warns of ice's dangers

 

January 13, 2018

Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

WHILE THERE is no visible open water on Lake Superior at Little Girl's Point Friday, some pancake ice remains as the lake continues to freeze. Pancake ice is created when the freezing ice is broken up, usually by waves. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is encouraging people to use caution when going out on ice.

With the recent warm-up and subsequent cold spell, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is warning people to be cautious when out on the ice.

"Don't assume the ice is safe just because a lake or stream looks frozen," Lt. Tom Wanless said in a DNR press release. "There are several factors that can determine the strength off 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 homes safely."

Wanless, who is the DNR's recreational safety program supervisor, gave several reminders when assessing whether the ice is safe.

He said ice can't always be judged on its look, thickness or the temperature, and new ice is generally stronger than old ice. Wanless explained old ice can contain air bubbles that weaken it.

If the ice can't be seen because it's covered in snow, Wanless said it should always be presumed unsafe. Part of this is due to the insulating properties of snow, which can slow the freezing process.

The strongest ice is clear ice with a blueish tint, whereas a "milky" appearance can indicate the ice has melted and refrozen and may be porous and weak.

Slush-covered ice is the worst ice as it is only half as strong as clear ice and is a sign the ice isn't freezing from the bottom.

He advised special caution in areas that have seen fluctuating air temperatures as the possible thawing and freezing can create spongy or honeycombed ice that is unsafe.

Wanless also said the DNR doesn't use the same "inch-thickness" standard used by many others, and suggests a minimum of four inches of clear ice to support an average person. The DNR also encourages those on the ice to check the thickness with an ice spud and ruler every few steps as ice thickness often various across a body of water.

Deeper inland bodies of water generally take longer to freeze, Wanless said, and water with a current or lakes in a chain-system can be more unpredictable.

Ice nearer shore, or that has formed around protruding debris - such as logs, docks or plants - is also often weaker, as it can be weakened by shifting expansion and heat from the sun reflecting off the bottom near shore.

The DNR advises those going out on the ice to wear a life jacket and bright colors, as well as bringing a cellphone and ice picks.

Should someone fall through the ice, Wanless said it is important to try to remain calm. He said not to remove heavy clothing as it can trap air to provide both warmth and buoyancy. Someone attempting to get out of the water should turn toward the direction he came from as that edge of the break is where the ice is probably strongest. If a person has ice picks or ice claws, he should dig into the ice while kicking his feet to slide forward out of the water.

Once out of the water, Wanless said it is important to roll away from the weak ice, as rolling will better distribute a person's weight to avoid breaking through again.

Once safely off the ice, someone who has fallen through should seek shelter and warmth, changing into dry clothes and drinking something without alcohol or caffeine in it.

The DNR encourages anyone feeling disoriented, uncontrollably shivering or noticing any other ill effects to call 911, as these may be signs of hypothermia.

-Richard Jenkins

 
 

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