AMES, Iowa – Due to widely variable weather conditions across much of Iowa, ice is deteriorating rapidly and creating potentially dangerous conditions for anglers, snowmobilers, skiers and others planning to use frozen ponds, lakes and rivers. Ice thickness may vary greatly across a single body of water, making it important to check ice conditions before beginning activities.
Ice that formed quickly during recent sub-zero temperatures is now thawing and refreezing, which leads to extremely weak ice that is deceptively dangerous. A layer of insulating snow, coupled with above-average temperatures, means new ice takes longer to form. Also, ice that has thawed and refrozen is only half as strong as new, clear ice.
As temperatures fluctuate between above and below freezing as spring approaches, it is important to be reminded of how to safely enjoy recreational activities on the ice.
Farm ponds tend to freeze first and stay frozen longer because their small water volume can cool more quickly. Additionally, rivers and streams tend to have open water longer and unfreeze quicker because moving water tends to remain unfrozen. The same process occurs in ponds that have aerators in them. Be particularly careful on rivers as water does not freeze evenly, making some areas thinner than others. Unsafe ice can be located within feet of safe ice. Ice that is slushy, whitish or otherwise discolored will not be as strong as clear ice. Look for wet areas on the ice and steam coming up through large cracks in the ice – these areas are unsafe.
Before venturing out, drill test holes near shore and periodically as you move across the ice to gauge its thickness and quality. Ice conditions change constantly and its thickness can vary across the lake. Be especially careful on ice around submerged trees and emergent vegetation, this ice tends to be weak. If the ice does not look right, don’t go out on it at all.
When outside during winter it is a good idea to dress in many thin layers of loose clothing. Start with a base layer that wicks perspiration away from your body and traps warm air. Use a combination of natural and synthetic layers and make sure your outermost layer is windproof and waterproof. Always cover your head and hands. Wear warm socks (preferably wool) and insulated waterproof boots. Many anglers have portable ice fishing shelters to get out of the elements.
There is safety in numbers, so when on the ice try to go with others. If going alone, make sure to tell someone you are going to be out on the ice, where you are going and what time you expect to return. Make sure to check websites, fishing reports and bait shops for local conditions. This will help you to know if being on the ice is safe.
• New ice is usually stronger than old ice.
• You can’t judge ice conditions by appearance or thickness.
• Ice seldom freezes uniformly.
• Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous.
• The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process.
• Booming and cracking ice isn't necessarily dangerous.
• Flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice.
The Department of Natural Resources offers the following guidelines for new clear ice:
• 4 inches for ice fishing or other activities on foot
• 5 inches for snowmobile or ATV
• 8-12 inches for car or small pickup
• 12-15 inches for medium truck
Carry a safety kit when on the ice, in case the ice gives way. Include the following items:
• Cell phone or radio
• Dry clothes and gloves
• Hand warmers
• Sled/5-gallon bucket
• Throw rope
• Tape measure
• Ice picks
• Ice chisel
• Flotation suit or life jacket
• First aid kit
Additional tips for being safe on the ice
Make sure the ice is thick enough to support you. Don’t go onto ice if you’re unsure. Follow the DNR thickness guide.
Be aware of moving water - rivers, streams and waters with aerators - as it can cause thin ice.
Less pressure decreases ice breakage, so spread out.
Avoid using vehicles on ice if possible. If you must drive on ice, make sure the ice is thick, more than 12 inches and stay a good distance from other vehicles. Keep a look out for danger, travel slowly to avoid causing pressure waves. Don't use a seat belt - this allows for a quick exit in an emergency.