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Ice now is fragile, uneven; DNR says wait a couple weeks

Tom Cherveny | Tribune Emergency responders trailer up the rescue airboat after responding Feb. 12 to a report of a vehicle breaking through the ice on Long Lake north of Willmar. Its driver escaped unharmed.

WILLMAR — It's up to you, but people who know about these things wouldn't recommend going ice fishing for at least a week, maybe longer.

Jeff Denz, a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer in the Kandiyohi County area, said lakes started to freeze up early this fall, but warm weather and wind thawed much of it.

"Everything is back to square one," he said in a phone interview Friday. The water has reopened in many spots where people were walking a couple weeks ago, he said.

That new ice could be unpredictable and vary greatly even on the same body of water, according to a DNR news release.

While it's never 100 percent safe to be out on the ice, the coming week, with forecasts of calmer, colder weather, should help the area's lakes build a thin cap of ice again, he said. "They just have to be patient here for the next couple weeks, for sure. ... Four inches is what we recommend."

Denz said he does go ice fishing, but he wouldn't go just yet. "I always carry ice picks with me, and a chisel," he said. "I'll poke and make sure I've got four inches before I continue on. If I don't, I just don't go." He also recommends a flotation coat or vest, just in case the ice doesn't hold.

Denz suggested that people remember that they aren't only endangering themselves by going out on too-thin ice. First responders who come to help them will be in danger, too.

In the past five years, the state has had 16 ice fatalities, Denz said. "No fish is worth that risk."

So far in 2017, three people have died on cold water, according to DNR statistics. During the Nov. 25-26 weekend, two anglers died after their ATV broke through ice in on Red Lake in northern Minnesota.

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog said the county hasn't had a problem with people going through the ice yet this year.

Hartog asked people to watch out for their animals in poor ice conditions, too. If an animal falls through the ice, first responders may have to make difficult choices about whether to endanger people to save an animal.

The recommendations from the DNR suggest minimum ice thickness for new, clear ice:

• 4 inches for ice fishing or other activities on foot.

• 5-7 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.

• 8-12 inches for a car or small pickup.

• 12-15 inches for a medium truck.

• Double these minimums for white or snow-covered ice.

Dave Coahran in the DNR's fisheries office in Spicer, said people started thinking about ice fishing early, expecting an early ice fishing season. "But then it warmed up."

Even later in the coldest parts of the winter, ice can still be unpredictable, he said. That could be especially true this year, because the area had a lot of rain this year.

Rivers and creeks are still running, and natural springs could be running more than usual. Coahran said a large school of carp can stir up water enough to open a lake. It happens in lakes south of Willmar. All of those things can contribute to poor ice conditions.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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