Last week’s snowstorm that dropped heavy, wet snow across much of the state has significantly affected ice conditions, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Slush adds weight to the ice and its effects can be unpredictable. In some areas, slushy conditions are impacting travel on the ice, while in others — especially where ice was in the early stages of forming — the conditions are not adequate to support ice shelters and vehicles, resulting in break-throughs.
When on the ice, people should check the thickness for themselves and not rely on tracks in the snow or what they’ve heard second hand. When measuring the thickness of slush-covered ice, measure only the clear ice, not the slush or snow on top of it. While forecasted cold weather this week could help strengthen ice, it’s vital to check ice thickness regularly. The DNR recommends at least 5 to 7 inches of ice for snowmobiles, 7 to 8 inches for side-by-side all-terrain vehicles, and at least 20 inches for heavy-duty trucks pulling wheelhouses.
“The final week of December has become the unofficial kickoff to the ‘wheelhouse season,’ but just because you had your wheelhouse out during that week last year doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be safe this year,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division. “There are many tools to help you determine whether the ice is safe — augers, drills, spud bars and tape measures — but the calendar isn’t one of them.”
General ice safety guidelines
No ice can ever be considered “safe ice,” but following these guidelines can help minimize the risk:
- Always wear a life jacket or float coat on the ice (except when in a vehicle).
- Carry ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure.
- Check ice thickness often; conditions can change quickly.
- Bring a cell phone or personal locator beacon.
- Don’t go out alone; let someone know about trip plans and expected return time.
- Before heading out, inquire about conditions and known hazards with local experts.
The minimum ice thickness guidelines for new, clear ice are:
- 4+ inches for ice fishing or other activities on foot.
- 5-7 inches for a snowmobile or a small ATV.
- 7-8 inches for a side-by-side ATV
- 9-12 inches for a car.
- 13-17 inches for a truck.
- 20+ inches for a large truck with a wheelhouse shelter.
- Double these minimums for white or snow-covered ice.
For more information, visit the DNR’s ice safety or boating safety pages.