Deteriorating ice creates dangerous conditions on Minnesota lakes

a not completely frozen lake shore
The Minnesota DNR warns that ice on Minnesota lakes is unsafe due to unseasonable temperatures. Like many bodies of water across the state Lake Bemidji is not completely frozen.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Deteriorating ice on lakes across Minnesota is causing dangerous conditions.

Law enforcement officials and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are urging ice-anglers to be extremely cautious.

Ice conditions are poor and deteriorating across the state because of warm temperatures and recent rainfall.  

“In some areas we have no ice and it’s kind of like the beginning of the ice season and some places we have ice that looks more like the end of the ice season where it’s rotten and melting,” said DNR Ice Safety Coordinator Nicole Biagi. “But in either case, the ice is not safe right now.”

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Beltrami County law enforcement has been involved in several recent ice rescues on Upper Red Lake, and Sheriff Jason Riggs wants people to reconsider driving or bringing ice fishing campers called wheelhouses onto ice.

“Most years, the ice would be thick enough by now for vehicles and wheelhouses, and we’d be seeing a steady procession of them heading north,” he said. “But this year isn’t ‘most years.’”

Two anglers went through the ice on Red Lake Thursday, but managed to get themselves out before first responders arrived.

Beltrami County emergency management director Christopher Muller stresses how unusual an ice season it’s been so far.

“We’ve had an above normal number of people that have been falling through the ice,” he said. “I don’t ever remember getting two inches of rain over Christmas, which also deteriorated the ice conditions.”

On many lakes there is open water. There are reports of people water skiing over the Christmas holiday and anglers choosing to fish from a boat instead of through the ice.

On lakes across the state, DNR conservation officers have responded to all-terrain vehicles and ice fishing shelters falling through the weakened ice, said Biagi.

And conditions change rapidly.

“If it was safe yesterday, that doesn’t mean that it's safe today,” she said.“And even when you’re out there, if you had enough ice to walk out there in the morning, it might not be enough ice for your walk back at the end of the day.”

Anyone venturing out on the ice should wear a personal flotation device to prevent drowning if the ice gives way.

Biagi said many people worry about hypothermia if they fall through the ice, but you are more likely to drown before hypothermia can set in.

Contact with the cold water causes involuntary gasping and hyperventilating that can lead to inhaling enough water to drown.  

“When we do have fatalities through the ice, it’s almost always drowning,” she said.

Biagi urges parents to remind children to stay off frozen lakes or ponds unless an adult determines the ice is safe.