Ice safety tips for safe winter fun

  • Joan Griffin and John Morris, both of Dublin, take a morning skate around Dublin Lake on Monday. While parts of the lake are frozen to the point of winter activities, there are still portions of open water that people need to be aware of. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Joan Griffin and John Morris, both of Dublin, take a morning skate around Dublin Lake on Monday. While parts of the lake are frozen to the point of winter activities, there are still portions of open water that people need to be aware of. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Joan Griffin and John Morris, both of Dublin, take a morning skate around Dublin Lake on Monday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Joan Griffin and John Morris, both of Dublin, take a morning skate around Dublin Lake on Monday. While parts of the lake are frozen to the point of winter activities, there are still portions of open water that people need to be aware of. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Joan Griffin and John Morris, both of Dublin, take a morning skate around Dublin Lake on Monday. While parts of the lake are frozen to the point of winter activities, there are still portions of open water that people need to be aware of. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Joan Griffin and John Morris, both of Dublin, take a morning skate around Dublin Lake on Monday. While parts of the lake are frozen to the point of winter activities, there are still portions of open water that people need to be aware of. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/3/2019 9:53:31 AM

Joan Griffin said the start to the skating season on Dublin Lake was the best she could remember. In fact, it was the best it had been in 40 years is what she heard.

Some days, over the last month, when she’d be gliding along the smooth surface while out for a trip around the edge of the lake, Griffin said she could see the rocks at the bottom of the lake through the black ice it was so crystal clear.

But even with recent cold nights and temperatures hovering in the 20s on Monday morning, there are still large portions of the lake that remain open water. “Make sure you tell people to look out for that,” Griffin said.

That just comes with the territory when you’re talking about some of the larger bodies of water in the state that are perfect for winter activities.

According to Dave Walsh, a captain with the law enforcement division of N.H. Fish and Game, ice doesn’t form uniformly and there are factors like vegetation, current and wind that can affect ice thickness at various locations on a body of water. 

“The big thing we tell people is that no ice is safe,” Walsh said.

Ice, even when it appears to be thick, doesn’t always mean it’s safe. Ice can be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions. Weak ice is formed when a rise in temperatures break down the existing ice, and then the slushy surface re-freezes when the temps drop back down.

Walsh recommends people give any ice a look over before even thinking about venturing out. Get an idea of where the inlets are, which prevent thick ice from forming, and see if the ice near the edge is safe enough to walk on. Then a good rule of thumb, Walsh said, is to test the ice with a chisel or auger to determine the thickness and do so often, maybe every 10 to 15 yards, to make sure it is still safe.

“People can get into a lull where they see other people out there and think it’s safe,” Walsh said.

Things like skating and snowmobiling on ice can create dangerous situations because you are moving about where ice conditions can change quickly, instead of ice fishing where people find a spot with thick ice and remain there.

“You just have to be smart and use a little common sense,” Walsh said.

Smaller, sheltered ponds and lakes tend to freeze faster, while wide open and larger bodies of water are slow to become safe enough to use. Walsh said Lake Winnipesaukee is typically the last one ready in the state. Rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weaken ice.

According to the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, there should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel, and eight to 10 inches of hard ice for snow machine or all-terrain vehicle travel.

And keep an eye on the weather.

“One day or a couple days here and there of warm weather isn’t going to do much to the ice, but continuous days would change it,” Walsh said.

If you do happen to fall in, the first thing to remember is don’t panic. Walsh said people will immediately go for where they just fell in and try to pull themselves out. But what people don’t think about, Walsh said, is that all that extra clothing you wear in the winter that is now water logged, creating more weight to get out of the water and making it hard to pull yourself out.

Instead, move away from the edge and then swim toward the ice and try to propel yourself on to it. It’s a lot easier to get out when you’re parallel to the ice than like a pencil in the water, Walsh said. Then roll until a safe distance from the opening before trying to stand.

Carrying a set of ice picks around your neck or in an easy accessible pocket is also a good idea. They will help with getting out of the water.

Other tips:

■Stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy.

■Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots.

■Small bodies of water tend to freeze thicker. 

■Don’t gather in large groups or drive large vehicles onto the ice.




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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