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Be careful when venturing on the ice

The long winters of the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin forced residents to learn to make the best of the cold weather. Ice fishing, snowmobiles, ATVs, skating, cross country skiing and snowshoeing all are ways to get outdoors and have fun until winter finally releases its grip.

But with that comes the need for some caution if that means venturing onto ice.

Recent events point to being aware of the risks ice can pose even when deeply in winter.

In lower Michigan, a 26-year-old man in Oakland County died Sunday after the snowmobile he was riding went through the ice on Wolverine Lake.

Closer to here, a 64-year-old Garden man drowned Thursday after going into the water after a pressure crack opened in the ice near Kates Bay on Lake Michigan’s Big Bay De Noc.

With that in mind, the Michigan State University Extension provides these ice safety tips from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources —

Things to consider before you go out:

— Ice conditions vary from lake to lake.

— Find a good local source — a bait shop or fishing guide — knowledgeable about ice conditions on the lake you want to fish on.

— Purchase a pair of ice picks or ice claws, which are available at most sporting goods stores.

— Tell a responsible adult where you are going and what time to expect you back. Relaying your plan can help save your life if something does happen to you on the ice.

What to know about ice:

— The strength of ice can’t always be told by its look, its thickness, the temperature or whether or not it is covered with snow.

— Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest. Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and is very porous and weak.

— Ice covered by snow always should be presumed unsafe. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process. Ice under the snow will be thinner and weaker. A snowfall also can warm up and melt existing ice.

— Stay off ice that has slush on it. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is no longer freezing from the bottom.

— Be especially cautious in areas where air temperatures have fluctuated. A warm spell may take several days to weaken the ice; however, when temperatures vary widely, causing the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night, the result is a weak, “spongy” or honeycombed ice that is unsafe.

— The DNR does not recommend the standard “inch-thickness” guide used by many anglers and snowmobilers to determine ice safety. A minimum of 4 inches of clear ice is required to support an average person’s weight on the ice, but since ice seldom forms at a uniform rate it is important to check ice thickness with a spud and ruler every few steps.

Venturing out on the ice:

— The DNR does not recommend taking a car or truck out onto the ice at any time.

— When walking out onto a frozen body of water with a group, avoid crossing ice in a single file.

— Never venture out alone without telling a responsible adult on shore.

— Test ice thickness with an ice spud before settling on a spot.

— If with a group, avoid standing together in a spot. Spread out.

— Wear a life jacket and brightly colored clothing.

— Take a cell phone for emergency use.

— Look for large cracks or depressions in the ice and avoid those areas.

— Remember ice does not form with uniform thickness on any body of water. Underwater springs and currents can wear thin spots on the ice.

If you fall through:

— Try to remain calm.

— Don’t remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.

— Turn in the water toward the direction you came from — that probably is the strongest ice.

— If available, dig the points of the ice picks into the ice and, while vigorously kicking your feet, pull 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, heat, dry clothing and warm, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated drinks.

— 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, a life-threatening drop in the body’s core temperature.

When ice fisherman prepare to head out, they usually go through a mental checklist of what they need, but many focus on fishing equipment and do not think of safety equipment. There are some simple tools to add to the checklist:

— Ice cleats or creepers. Ice cleats or creepers attach to boots and consist of adjustable straps or rubber overshoes with metal teeth or spikes that provide additional traction on slippery ice and help to prevent falls.

— A spud or Ice chisel. An ice spud is a long-handled blade that comes to a point on one side. An ice chisel can be used to punch a hole through the ice before taking a step to check the thickness. Many people have replaced their spud with an ice auger, but it is a good idea to take both.

— Ice safety picks. Always bring two ice picks and wear them around your neck so they are within quick reach. The ice picks can be stuck into the ice to pull out if you fall through.

— Floating rescue rope. Make sure to have a floating rescue rope in an easily accessible location to assist from a safe distance if someone falls through or to throw to a rescuer should you fall through.

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