News release: DNR, county sheriffs warn of poor ice conditions across Minnesota

December 28, 2023

Widespread rain, wind and unseasonably warm weather during recent days have degraded ice conditions throughout the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  

While the week between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays has become popular among the owners of deluxe fish houses (known also as wheelhouses), conditions so far this winter mean few, if any, areas of the state have the ice thickness necessary for these types of ice structures. In recent days, DNR conservation officers and county sheriff’s deputies across the state have responded to instances of fish houses and recreational vehicles falling through the ice.

In central to southern portions of Minnesota, what had been marginal ice conditions are now open water. The ice farther north has deteriorated as well, with ice-angler rescues having occurred from Upper Red Lake at least three times since Dec. 17. While temperatures are forecasted to drop, ice conditions will remain poor until there’s a string of cold days to form new, clear ice.

“Many of us love to spend the New Year’s holiday with family and friends on the ice,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division. “But when it comes to ice conditions, the calendar doesn’t matter.”

Beltrami County Sheriff Jason Riggs, whose jurisdiction includes the popular early ice fishing destination Upper Red Lake, knows that reality all too well.

“Most years, the ice would be thick enough by now for vehicles and wheelhouses, and we’d be seeing a steady procession of them heading north,” he said. “But this year isn’t ‘most years,’ and the ice is changing constantly. It’s absolutely vital that anyone who heads out checks the thickness frequently, pays close attention to the weather, and has a plan in case the worst happens and they wind up in the water.”

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 at regular intervals; 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.
  • Parents and guardians should talk with their children about staying away from the ice unless there’s adult supervision. This includes lakes and rivers, as well as neighborhood ponds, retention ponds and anywhere ice forms.

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