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Paynesville Press - Jan. 29, 2003

Open water remains on Rice Lake

By Michael Jacobson

Open water remains on Rice Lake, as the Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers, snowmobilers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to exercise caution and sound judgment on Minnesota lakes this winter.

The open water on Rice Lake emerged after the warm weather in mid-January, said DNR conservation officer Chuck Nelson, and was still open as of Monday, Jan. 27. Statewide, the DNR has closed seven lakes in the state to car and truck traffic and another seven to all-vehicle traffic, the closest lakes to Paynesville being Lake Marion by Hutchinson.

The state hydrologist has theorized that high groundwater levels have contributed to the open water on lakes in the state, and Nelson thinks that might be a factor for the open water on Rice Lake, since the hole in the ice, by Brossard's Point, is in a place that Nelson has never seen open water before.

Rice Lake also has a number of pressure ridges where people should be cautious, said Nelson. Normally these pressure ridges are dangerous, he said, and places where vehicles tend to go through the ice.

During the warm spell in January, six or seven fish houses on Rice and Koronis sank into the ice, but all have been recovered now, according to Nelson.

The recent cold stretch has made the area lakes as safe as they have been all winter, said Nelson.

DNR Ice Safety Tips

Before venturing out on a frozen lake or pond, the Department of Natural Resources advises people to remember: There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.

Minimum Ice Thickness

  • Four inches of new clear ice is the minimum thickness for travel on foot, according to the DNR. Five inches is the minimum for snowmobiles and ATVs, and eight to 12 inches is the minimum for cars and small trucks.

  • Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.

  • Check for known thin areas with a local resort or bait shop. Or test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger, or even a cordless drill with a long bit.

    Walk Instead of Driving

  • If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry - keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt, and have a simple emergency action plan that you have discussed with passengers.

  • Stay away from alcoholic beverages. Even "just a couple of beers" are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.

    Go Slow on Snowmobile

  • Do not overdrive your snowmobile's headlight. At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal through-the-ice accidents on snowmobile occurred because the machine was travelling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.

    Wear a Life Vest

  • The DNR recommends wearing a life vest under your winter gear. Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits.

  • And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased. It's amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 pounds of water. Ice picks can really help pull yourself back onto solid ice.

    Caution: Do not wear a flotation device while travelling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle!

    What if Someone Falls in?

  • Keep calm and think out a solution.

  • Do not run to the hole. You will probably break through and then there will be two victims.

  • Use something to throw or extend to the victim - such has jumper cables or skis - and pull them out of the water.

  • If you cannot rescue the victim, immediately call 9-1-1.

  • Get medical assistance for the victim. People who are subjected to cold water immersion but seem fine after being rescued can suffer a potentially fatal condition called "after drop," where cold blood that is pooled in the body's extremities starts to circulate again as the victim starts to warm up.

    What if I Fall in?

  • Try not to panic. Instead, remain calm and turn toward the direction you came from. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface of the ice (here's where the ice picks come in handy) and work forward by kicking your feet.

  • If the ice breaks, maintain your position and slide forward again.

  • Once you are lying on the ice, do not stand. Instead, roll away from the hole. That spreads out your weight until you are on solid ice.

    The best advice is not to put yourself in needless danger by venturing out on the ice 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.

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