HJ/EDHerald Journal, Jan. 9, 2006

Festival organizers hoping for cold weather

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Unseasonably warm weather is putting a damper on the Ice Festival in Waverly at the end of this month and Howard Lake fishing derby next month.

Although organizers are planning to go forward with both events regardless of the weather, the lack of thick ice might cut back or displace some events.

“I’ve been told there is about eight inches of ice around the bay and in the corners, where we would be setting up,” Kent Houston of Waverly said, who is committee chairman for the Ice Festival on Waverly Lake.

The Ice Festival is scheduled to take place Saturday, Jan. 28.

“Right now, they are hoping for colder weather in the coming weeks,” he said.

“We’ll have to assess it a week ahead of time, get some verification from the sheriff and the lake authorities to make sure it is safe for people to be out on the ice,” Houston said.

Howard Lake Sportsmen are also keeping a close eye on the lakes, as they prepare for the Howard Lake Ice Derby in February.

They are currently talking through different strategies if the weather doesn’t cooperate, such as having the headquarters for the festival on land, according to Joe Drusch of Joe’s Sport Shop in Howard Lake.

“Maybe we’ll have to have a snowball contest instead of an ice auger contest,” Drusch laughed.

Although planners are upbeat about upcoming festivals, they are also aware of the dangers of thin ice.

“Usually, this time of year, there’s enough ice that anglers can drive on the ice. But at this time, we certainly wouldn’t recommend that,” said Paul Diedrich, the area manager for the Montrose Area Fisheries Office, serving Wright, Sherburne, and Stearns counties.

According to Diedrich, there are about seven to 10 inches of ice on most area lakes, along with a lot of water and snow.

He has noticed that many fishermen have already taken their houses off the ice. For those who haven’t, they should be careful their houses don’t get stuck there.

“One thing you want to make sure is that the slush around your house doesn’t start freezing around the house when we start getting colder weather,” Diedrich said. “I think the biggest mistake people make is just taking undue risks.”

So, when is it safe to cross the ice, and when is it risky business?

At least four inches is required to be able to travel across ice on foot, a minimum of five inches for snowmobiles, and at least eight to 10 inches for cars.

Not all ice is created equal, and those numbers apply to clear ice only.

White, or “milky,” ice requires almost twice the thickness of ice as clear ice to be safe. This is because the white color is caused by bubbles in the ice, which makes the ice weaker.

Although there hasn’t been many accidents in the area – the only one Diedrich recalls is a truck going through the ice in Big Lake – Diedrich would like it to stay that way.

He advises people to just walk out right now, don’t drive. It’s also a good idea to go during the day, not at night or dusk when holes in the ice are less visible.

When the ice does become thick enough to support vehicles, the Department of Natural Resources offers a number of safety tips.

If the ice is safe enough to drive on, make sure to park vehicles at least 60 feet away from each other, so there is not a lot of stress in one area. Don’t park the vehicles right next to each other.

Check the ice about every 150 feet, as ice thickness can vary considerably. It is also a good idea to check with the local bait shop to learn about ice conditions and any dangerous spots to avoid.

Don’t drive faster than 15 miles per hour. Going faster can cause waves in the ice, causing it to shatter.

Try not to drive at night, when holes are not visible. If driving a snowmobile, don’t outdrive the vehicle’s headlights.

For more information and ice-safety tips, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us.

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