As residents venture outside to enjoy winter sports like ice fishing and snowmobiling, officials are sharing tips to help keep them safe while venturing onto the ice.
Ice coverage will most likely continue to grow throughout the week in southeast Michigan as temperatures are expected to stay mostly below freezing, Jim Francis, Lake Erie basin coordinator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries, said Monday.
Francis said weather conditions should create good ice cover for winter recreation, such as ice fishing. He said he observed several ice fishers on small canals and rivers in the Lake St. Clair basin as early as last weekend.
However, ice coverage can vary greatly between water bodies, depending on its depth and size. Fast-moving creeks and rivers freeze slower than a still pond, and snow can slow ice coverage by acting as an insulating layer, he said.
People ice fishing and participating in other recreational activities should always exercise caution. Francis recommended using tools such as an spud to check for ice thickness and weak spots. A spud is a long shank with a chisel-like end that is used to chip a hole through the ice.
Ice coverage throughout Michigan is expected to be about average this winter, based on long-term forecasts for January. This forecast can always change based on changes in weather patterns, with variability throughout Michigan, said Randy Claramunt, Lake Huron basin coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries.
Claramunt said ice coverage throughout Michigan and the Great Lakes has declined in the past approximately 15 years due to climate change, impacting opportunities for ice fishing and other winter activities.
How to stay safe on the ice
St. Clair County Sheriff Mat King said at least four inches of clear ice is recommended for walking, ice fishing and ice skating. For small vehicles such as snowmobiles or ATVs, at least five to six inches of clear ice is recommended.
If you venture out on the ice, make sure you let someone know where you're going, when you're leaving and when you expect to return, he said. Never venture out on the ice alone.
Look for any kind of slushiness or softness in the ice. Be aware of changing wind and weather patterns. Check the weather for the time you are on the ice and for the 48 hours before you go out to look for warming patterns.
"Don't assume it's good because it was good yesterday," King said.
If you're ever in doubt about whether the ice is safe, don't walk on it, he said.
“If you have any doubt on safety of the ice don’t try it," King said. "It’s not worth it. People die out there."
If you fall through the ice, follow these safety tips:
Don't panic and stay calm. Panicking can cause you to thrash and inhale water.
Turn in the water toward the direction you came from; this is most likely the strongest ice.
Push your body up out of the water by kicking your feet.
Lay on the ice to distribute your body weight and avoid falling through the ice again.
Seek medical attention immediately. Once you are out of the water, you are still in danger of hypothermia.
Get to a warm place and change out of your wet clothes immediately. Wet clothes can cause hypothermia.
Contact Laura Fitzgerald at (810) 941-7072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: How to stay safe on the ice this winter