Be careful when venturing out on the ice this season

As the new year nears the end of January, it could be expected Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin would have more than enough thick ice to accommodate a host of fishing shanties, vehicles and other winter activities.

After all, ice fishing and snowmobiles zooming across a frozen lake are among the traditional rewards for dealing with the normally prolonged winters in the north.

But nature can be fickle, especially in these seemingly warmer times. Weather patterns — snow to insulate ice, rain and warmer temperatures to trigger melting — have combined to create a risky situation this season.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recommends caution, even this late in the winter, when going out on the ice.

Even the Rotary Club of Iron Mountain-Kingsford decided this month it would skip its annual Car Plunge competition on Chapin Pit in 2020 — a raffle to guess when a vehicle placed on the ice will eventually fall through — due to “unreliable ice conditions.”

The DNR advises:

— No ice should be considered safe. There is no reliable “inch-thickness” to determine if ice is safe.

— Test ice thickness and quality using a spud, needle bar or auger.

— When venturing onto the ice, take along lifejacket, ice picks or claws and a two-way communication device that receives signal.

— Strongest ice is clear with a bluish tint. Weak ice, formed by melted and refrozen snow, appears milky.

— Ice covered by snow should always be considered unsafe. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows freezing process. Ice under snow can be thin and weak.

— Stay off ice with slush on top. Slush ice is only half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is not freezing from the bottom.

— A sudden cold front with low temperatures can create cracks within a half-day.

— A warm spell may take several days to weaken ice, and cause the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night.

— Ice weakens with age.

— If there’s ice on the lake but water around the shoreline, be extra cautious.

— Stronger the current on the lake, the more likely the ice will give to open water.

— Avoid areas of ice with protruding debris such as logs or brush.

If you break through the ice, remain calm. Don’t remove winter clothing — it won’t drag you down, but instead provide warmth. Turn in the water toward the direction you came from, as this is most likely the strongest ice.

If you have ice picks, dig the points of the picks into the ice while vigorously kicking your feet to pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.

Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.

Get to shelter and remove wet clothing, redressing in warm, dry clothing and consume warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages as soon as you can.

Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia, which is a life-threatening condition.