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DNR warns about ice danger after skater fatality

December 15, 2008

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Colder temperatures invite winter activities on Minnesota’s frozen lakes, but Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials are concerned that many lakes or aren’t ready for recreation.

On Dec. 7, an ice skater died after breaking through thin ice on Medicine Lake in Hennepin County.

“Lakes in many parts of the state had open water until a couple of days ago,” said Tim Smalley, DNR water safety specialist. “Then we got a few inches of snow, which slows down the freezing process and creates a hidden trap for people who venture out.”

The DNR offers a few ice safety tips that winter sports enthusiasts should keep in mind before venturing out on any frozen lake or pond.

General ice thickness guidelines
• 4 inches of new clear ice is the minimum thickness for travel on foot.
• 5 inches is minimum for snowmobiles and ATVs.
• 8-12 inches for cars or small trucks.

The guidelines are for new, clear, solid ice.

Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe, and it is seldom a consistent thickness over an entire body of water.

Check ice thickness frequently, especially early in the season, and be aware that even if the ice seems to be thick enough, there are other factors such as currents, wind, water chemistry and wildlife that can affect the safety of that of ice.

Other safety tips
• check for known thin-ice areas with a local resort or bait shop and test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger, or even a cordless 3/8 inch drill with a long auger-style bit
• refrain from driving on ice whenever possible and if you must, be prepared to leave it in a hurry – keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers
• even “just a couple of beers” is enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life
• don’t “overdrive” your snowmobile’s headlight – many fatal snowmobile accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated a hole in the ice
• wear a life vest under your winter gear or one of the new flotation snowmobile suits, but never when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle.
• Also, consider carrying a pair of ice picks in case of an accident.

What should you do if a companion falls through the ice
• keep calm and think out a solution
• don't run up to the hole; you'll probably break through and then there will be two victims
• use some item on shore to throw or extend to the victim to pull them out of the water such as jumper cables or skis, or push a boat ahead of you
• if you can't rescue the victim immediately, use a cell phone to call 911
• get medical assistance for the victim

Handle victims gently – they may seem fine but could suffer a potentially fatal condition called “after drop,” which happens when cold blood pooled in the extremities starts to recirculate.

What if you fall in?

Try not to panic. Instead, remain calm and turn toward the direction from which you came.

Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface of the ice – here’s where the ice picks come in handy.

Work forward on the ice by kicking your feet. If the ice breaks, maintain your position and slide forward again.

Once you are lying on the ice, don’t stand. Instead, roll away from the hole. That spreads out your weight until you are on solid ice.

This is an extremely difficult procedure, particularly when weighed down by a saturated snowmobile suit.

The best advice is don’t put yourself into needless danger by venturing out too soon or too late in the season.

No angler, no matter how much of a fishing enthusiast, would want to die for a crappie.

For more information on ice safety, contact the DNR at 651-296-6157 or toll free 888-646-6367 or e-mail info@dnr.state.mn.us and ask for our free ice safety publications.

These include the brochures “Danger, Thin Ice”; “Hypothermia the Cold Facts”; and the wallet-sized reference cards and 11x14 posters entitled, “Minimum Recommended Ice Thicknesses.”

Or visit the DNR’s Web site at www.mndnr.gov/safety/ice to download the ice safety tips pamphlet and to see a nine-minute DNR video on ice safety.

Curly leaf pondweed issue will be on Winsted City Council agenda Tuesday

The Winsted City Council will include the curly leaf pondweed issue as part of its agenda at the regular council meeting at city hall, Tuesday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. Anyone interested may attend.

The 2008 GPS mapping of Winsted Lake recently done by Lake Restoration for the Winsted Lake Watershed Association shows a reduction in curly leaf pondweed after chemically treating the lake last spring.

The 99.6 acres infected by curly leaf pondweed in 2007 was reduced to a total of 85 acres in 2008 after treatment. Winsted Lake is 376 acres in size.

Those attending the lake association’s meeting last Monday agreed it is necessary to continue the chemical treatment for the next three to four years to keep the curly leaf from spreading.

The lake association’s next steps are to get permission to chemically treat the lake in the spring of 2009 from the DNR and to work out the funding of the project.

A bite for life saves man from icy waters
From the DNR

A new lifesaving technique, plus the cooperation between officers of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), recently saved a Sauk Rapids man from death when he fell through ice while ice-skating on the Mississippi River.

James Christensen, 62, had been in the water for about an hour on Nov. 29.

Deputy Michael Kost and Detective Sgt. Neal Jacobson, along with Conservation Officer Tony Musatov and his supervisor, Lt. Tim Knellwolf, arrived at the scene after nearby residents reported hearing cries for help.

Also assisting in the rescue was Christensen’s son, Carl Christensen, 26, and other emergency service providers.

Knellwolf said the elder Christensen was about 100 feet from shore when rescuers tried to get a rope out to him.

When the man’s head disappeared beneath the surface, the son plunged into the freezing water to attempt a rescue.

Carl Christensen kept his father afloat while the rope was worked to the area.

“Mr. Christensen was too hypothermic to grab the rescue line so his son suggested he put the rope in his mouth and bite on it,” Knellwolf said. “Thankfully, with Mr. Christiansen biting the rope, we were able to pull them both to safety.”

Knellwolf also noted it was an ingenious rescue tip since most people’s hands become too cold holding onto the ice shelf and have no way to grab a rescue line once they’ve entered freezing water. A bite for life, so to speak.

James Christensen was taken to St. Cloud Hospital where he was treated for hypothermia and later released, thankful to survive the ordeal. His son was treated at the scene.

The DNR recommends that new clear ice be at least 4 inches thick for people to walk on it. The ice should be 5 inches for snowmobiles and between 8 and 12 inches to support small to medium-sized cars and pickups, he said.

“Never assume the ice is safe,” said Knellwolf. “Always test the ice with an ice chisel or auger before going out on the ice. People need to realize that when they choose to go out on unsafe ice, they not only put themselves in danger, but they put their would-be rescuers in danger as well.”

Knellwolf also noted that people should never go out on the ice alone, carry ice rescue picks, and at least 50 feet of rope with them and should tell someone where they are going and when they will return.

It’s also not a bad idea to wear a life vest under your clothing and carry a cell phone in a zip-lock bag to call for help.

“If someone falls through the ice, throw out a weighted rope to the victim. Never go out to them and endanger yourself.”
Knellwolf said Minnesota’s emergency service providers work and train together often for such incidents.

“This rescue was made possible because of the excellent cooperation between Carl Christensen, conservation officers with the DNR, Benton County Sheriff’s Office and other emergency service providers at the scene,” said Knellwolf. The DNR has ice safety information posted at www.mndnr.gov/safety/ice.

Migration Reports
From Avery Pro-Staff

• Name: Richard Shamla
Date: December 8, 2008
Location: Clara City, MN
Weather: Snowing, high of mid-teens, winds northwest.
Snow Cover: Several inches.

Water Conditions: Most bodies frozen every few spot of open water.

Feeding Conditions: Marginal as fields are snowed covered.

Species and Numbers: Canada Geese 10,000 most in LQP refuge.

Migrations: Very late stage

Season Stage: Late season opened Saturday for some of the county.

Hunting Report: Season was closed this week. This last cold front pushed most of the remaining geese out of the county.
• Name: Ben Cade
Date: December 10, 2008
Location: Buffalo, MN
Weather: Cold, with snow in the forecast.
Snow Cover: Most areas have a good coating of fresh snow.

Water Conditions: Most area lakes are frozen over. I did walk several area lakes last night; however the DNR has issued thin ice warning for our area. I have heard reports of lakes with up to 10 inches of ice already.

Feeding Conditions: We do not have enough snow cover to make feeding difficult for the birds. Any birds still around should have no issues finding food.

Species and Numbers: We have a good number of Canada geese roosting on the Mississippi river, which is typical for this time of year.

Migrations: Most ducks and geese have left the area with the exception of the Mississippi river and other areas with open water.

Season Stage: Our duck season ended on December 2. Late season goose hunting begins on Saturday the 13.

Hunting Report: Hunting has been excellent with the fresh snowfall. Hiding in fields with little cover becomes much easier when we have a good blanket of white.

Gossip: Most hunters still chasing waterfowl are excited for the start of late season goose hunting.

Portion of Glacial Lakes State Trail temporarily closed
From the DNR

A short segment of the Glacial Lakes State Trail about 1.5 miles north of New London is closed to public use until further notice, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Gregg Soupir, a DNR area supervisor at Spicer, said several hundred feet of the trail remains closed due to a title issue with an adjacent property owner.

The section, located just north of the intersection of Kandiyohi County Highway 31, is currently posted closed and barricaded to prevent trespass.

In 1985, Burlington Northern Railroad abandoned an 18-mile segment of railroad grade between Willmar and Hawick. DNR acquired that portion in 1990.

The railroad abandonedanother 18.7 miles of grade between Hawick and Richmond in 1988. DNR acquired that segment in 1993.

The agency then developed the Glacial Lakes Trail in segments as funds became available over the years.

In 1991, an individual purchased a 40-acre parcel from Burlington Northern adjacent to the trail between Willmar and Hawick.

That individual now maintains that he, not DNR, owns an approximate half-acre of land at the corner of the parcel where the trail crosses for several hundred feet.

“We are working with the landowner to resolve the dispute. We’re also looking at alternative routes and options to reconnect the multi-use trail for all users,” Soupir said. “In the meantime, we ask all users to please not trespass into the posted area until we can work out an agreement and re-open the trail.”

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: Is there anything in Minnesota’s historical weather records that indicates what type of winter we will have this year?

A: Most of Minnesota reported above-normal temperatures this fall.

There is a slight tendency towards average to above-average temperatures in winters following an above-normal autumn.

Water surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean at the equator are near their historical averages.

Warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in this area of the Pacific create the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, which usually foreshadows mild winters in Minnesota.

There is no El Niño forecast for this winter.

Every Minnesota winter will have spells of bitterly cold weather, bouts of sometime-heavy snowfall and at least one January thaw.

Most communities in southern Minnesota will see below-zero minimum temperatures about 30 days each winter.

Northern Minnesota typically has 50 to 65 days of below-zero weather, on average.