Weather Forecast


Unseasonal warmth leads to shaky ice conditions in west central Minn.

Emergency workers head out on the ice Tuesday on an air cushion craft and by foot to investigate a fish house that fell through the ice on Foot Lake near Robbins Island in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

WILLMAR -- Rescuers donned wetsuits and safety harnesses Tuesday morning to salvage an unoccupied fish house that sank through the ice on Foot Lake.

It's the last week in December, but the warm weather and lack of snow have led to ice conditions more typical of November or March.

"Extreme caution" is what Brad Lindgren, chief deputy with the Meeker County Sheriff's Office, advises for anyone venturing out onto the ice.

"What you think about normally in November, you have to still consider going into January," he said.

A string of recent incidents has prompted authorities to urge Minnesotans to be extra-careful on the ice. Last week about 20 anglers had to be rescued by boats, hovercrafts and a helicopter when an ice floe broke off, stranding them on Lake Mille Lacs with open water between them and the shore. At least two other similar incidents have been reported this winter in northern Minnesota.

This past Friday evening an ATV went through the ice on the northwest side of Lake Washington near Darwin. The Meeker County Sheriff's Office said the water was shallow and no injuries were reported.

But the mishap underscores the need to pay attention to changing ice conditions, Lindgren said Tuesday.

"What happened three days ago is completely different, and every lake is different," he said. "There's so many variables. You've got to know the lake you're going on."

New ice that's less than 2 inches thick is unsafe, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Four inches of new ice will support ice fishing and other activities carried out on foot, while 5 inches will support a snowmobile or ATV. To safely drive a car or small pickup onto the ice, it takes 8 to 12 inches of fresh ice.

Ice conditions also are influenced by the surrounding environment. Ice is usually weaker in areas where there are currents, inlets or springs. Older ice that has been partially thawed and refrozen isn't as strong as fresh, new ice. Marshy, reedy areas also can be treacherous.

"Last year we had good ice," said Marilee Dorn, crime prevention and community policing officer with the Willmar Police Department.

This year the conditions are more difficult, she said, noting that in many places the ice has become honeycombed from meltwater that collects on the surface on warmer days and trickles into the ice below.

"You're going to have to go out and do the testing," she said. "Definitely no motor vehicles on the ice at this point."

Lindgren said he has heard several reports of fish houses that have sunk into the water after heating up from propane heaters inside or from the sun's rays.

"We've had that happen on one of our lakes," he said.

A fish house also sank through the ice last week on Lake Wakanda in southern Kandiyohi County.

"There's very thin ice out there," Lindgren said. "Everybody needs to be very careful. Take your ice samples every few feet and know where you are. Err on the side of absolute safety."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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