‘It could save your life’: Staying safe on the ice this winter

Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:53 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - The cold weather is sticking around and more people are venturing out on the ice, but the thrill of ice fishing doesn’t come without risks. On the first day of winter, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials are sharing advice on staying safe as the ice gets thicker.

”I don’t care if it’s 20° below for two months,” said Mitch Lawler, a DNR conservation officer, “Ice is never 100% safe.”

Meteorologist Nathan Hopper said the lack of snow combined with consecutive cold nights were a recipe for good ice formation.

“It gave ice time to bulk up,” explained Hopper.

However, anytime snow or high winds are in the forecast, the nature of the ice can change quickly.

“Whether it’s two inches or 22 inches that ice now that is snow-covered forms slower...” said Lawler, “With a strong wind blowing, ice will form, but it doesn’t form solid.”

When it comes to ice thickness DNR officers say remember four, six, eight, 12.

“Four inches is good enough for humans, six inches is good enough for recreational vehicles, eight inches for small vehicles, and then 12 inches for large wheelhouses, permanent houses, and medium-sized pickups,” said Brett Wiltrout, a DNR conservation officer.

Minnesota DNR graphic showing ice measurements and what it can hold.
Minnesota DNR graphic showing ice measurements and what it can hold.(Minnesota DNR)

Fargo Bait and Tackle owner and avid ice fisherman Gary Gould said a $50 chisel ‘will save your life.’

When venturing onto the ice, Gould advised for every few steps, people use a spud bar to chop in one spot. If you don’t get any water Gould said it’s safe enough to hold you. He said to take a few more steps and repeat the process.

Lawler said the week between Christmas and the New Year is known as ‘wheelhouse season.’

“When people start to get confident with the ice thickness and start to venture out with their wheelhouses,” Lawler explained.

However, year to year things change, “Never go off of the calendar, always go off of the thermometer,” he said.

He also added anytime people are heading outdoors, they should always leave a note saying where they’re going and when they plan to be back. If something goes wrong, it can help law enforcement find you.

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