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DNR warns of ice melt on west central Minnesota lakes after warm spell

A group of fish houses are sitting near the edge of thin ice signs Wednesday on Foot Lake in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

SPICER — Spring-like temperatures and rain that’s predicted for this week could weaken the stability of ice on area lakes.

The state Department of Natural Resources says it doesn’t take long for ice to become brittle and cautions people not to let their guard down when traveling on frozen lakes.

The average thickness of ice on Kandiyohi County lakes is currently 12 inches, said Dave Coahran, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Spicer.

That’s the minimum thickness acceptable for a medium-sized pickup. A 3/4-ton pickup hauling a big fish house is “at a risk right now with 12 inches of ice,” said Coahran.

While he has not seen deterioration of lake ice yet, the continued warm weather and expected rain will affect the ice quality.

“It could make things more dangerous than they are now,” he said. “We’ll have to watch what the weather does.”

Rain is likely today in Willmar, according to the National Weather Service forecast. Freezing rain is forecast tonight and Friday, changing over to snow by Saturday.

A heavy rain will “definitely impact the ice,” said Coahran and a downpour “would be a problem.”

“People just need to keep an eye on what’s happening and act appropriately,” he said.

Kara Owens, DNR boat and water safety specialist, said anglers or snowmobilers “might be safe in one spot one day, but might fall through in the same place the very next day” because of changing conditions.

So far this winter, there have been no ice-related deaths in Minnesota. Last winter, four people died after falling through the ice, according to the DNR.

Along with the changing weather, Coahran said there are other factors that also affect ice safety, like open water from aeration systems that are designed to bring oxygen to lakes to prevent winter fish kill. Several of those systems were just turned on in the last week in Kandiyohi County. Wind can make those sections of open water grow and nudge up to fish houses that were put on the lake before the aerators were turned on.

People can get disoriented when driving on lakes at night or in times of low visibility and drive into open water, he said.

On shallow lakes, like Willmar and Foot Lakes, Coahran said large schools of carp can congregate and “create enough wave action to erode ice.”

When driving a vehicle on the ice, Coahran said it’s best to go slow. Driving 40 or 50 mph can “actually cause a wave in front of you” and weaken the ice.

After the potential rain and meltdown that could leave lakes soupy, a cold snap is predicted to hit the area.

While that will be good for strengthening the ice, it could also leave many fish houses frozen to the ice. Coahran said anglers might want to consider moving fish houses off lakes or putting them up on blocks before the weekend cold hits.

DNR clear ice minimum thickness recommendations are:

 - 4 inches for walking.

 - 5 inches for a snowmobile or ATV.

- 8-12 inches for a car.

- 12-15 inches for a medium-sized truck.

The DNR recommends that when the temperature rises above freezing for six hours during a 24-hour period, people should double the recommended minimum thicknesses. If temperatures rise above freezing for 24 hours or more, they should stay off the ice.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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