WALKING ON THIN ICE: How to tell if lake ice is safe

WALKING ON THIN ICE: How to tell if lake ice is safe

If you're a hockey fan, you oftentimes hear stories from your favorite players and how they played hockey on the lakes as children. I'm not going to lie. When I heard New York Rangers' defenseman Ryan McDonagh talk about that on Monday, I wanted to travel to the nearest lake and try it out.

Not so fast! There's a lot of careful measurement that has to happen, before you try testing our frozen lakes.

1. Temperature

According to Outdoor Canada, the outdoor temperature needs to be 18°F for three consecutive weeks in order for the strongest ice to form. It's been below freezing since Saturday here, so right away we should know that the ice isn't incredibly strong.

2. Ice Color

Clear, blue ice is strongest. This goes back to the temperature. The colder it gets, the quicker that this clear blue ice will develop. White ice is about half as strong as the blue ice. If you see gray ice, that's the least safest. This typically means that there's flowing water or melting ice.

3. Surroundings

If you see cracks in the ice, common sense should tell you not to try it. Water on top of the ice is usually a good indicator that there's melting going on. (Again, it seems like common sense.) Things like rocks and logs absorb the sun's heat and that will melt any surrounding ice more quickly. Ice texture is key too. If it's mushy or slushy, then don't test it or try to jump beyond it. Yes, ice melts more quickly on the edges of a river or lake. However, it's not safe to try jumping beyond those points.


Once you've made a few of these observations, you can use a buddy system to check the ice depth. You can chip the ice with an axe or hatchet. If you're really experienced, you can check with an ice auger. So, how do you know how thick the ice needs to be in order to be safe?

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the ice needs to be four inches thick in order to do any ice fishing. If you have a snowmobile, the ice needs to be at least five to seven inches thick. To ride a car or truck on the ice, it needs to be eight to twelve and twelve to fifteen inches thick (respectively).

We have gotten plenty of pictures in recent days of the frozen lakes in recent days. Judging by recent temperature observations and the color of the ice in the pictures, I'd venture to say that it isn't safe to go fishing, walking, or riding on it.

Photo: Donna Justus - Hungry Mother State Park

Photo: Jacob Redden - Clinch River

Photo: Michael Mullins - Skeetrock Bridge




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