Warm weather prompts ice warnings

As the unusually warm February weather continues, warnings are going out to those who would venture out on the ice in pursuit of a few fish.

The state just had its free fishing weekend for the winter, apparently without mishap. But with temperatures even in the Upper Peninsula soaring into the 50s and rain in the upcoming forecast, the state is urging caution about assuming the ice on area lakes remains firm.

Yes, veterans of many ice fishing seasons will insist they have taken themselves and even their vehicles safely out on the ice well into February and March in past years.

Yet this does not appear to be a normal winter, at least at this point. Just a glance at the open water on several local waterways raises safety concerns.

“Thawing ice conditions on Michigan’s lakes, rivers and ponds are dangerous and unpredictable this time of year,” said State Fire Marshal Julie Secontine in urging Michiganders to stay off the ice. “Don’t take risks by venturing on to any ice-covered waters to avoid dangerous situations that may end in tragedy.”

That advisory did come from downstate, so might not be viewed as applicable to the Upper Peninsula.

So, here’s the Coast Guard’s statement late last week about ice conditions in the U.P.

“Ice is unpredictable and the thickness can vary, even in small areas,” the release states. “Warm temperatures and currents, particularly around narrow spots, bridges, inlets and outlets, are always suspect for thin ice. Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and dark areas since these signify thinner ice.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources also notes wind, water depth and other factors play a role in the ice’s thickness, as do flowing water and strong currents over submerged objects such as rocks or tree limbs and areas around bridges, pressure ridges and ice heaves.

Fresh, clear ice is stronger than milky or off-colored ice, which might have thawed and refrozen. Ice covered with snow can be either. The DNR recommends those who wants to be on the ice take a spud to probe as they go along.

“Typically, punching the ice in front of you with a spud can alert you to soft or thin spots in what appears to be otherwise solid ice,” DNR officials said.

And be aware of the dangers to others that might go out with you. Many ice-related rescues start with children or pets falling through the ice or becoming stranded. So take some precautions to make sure getting skunked is the only bad outcome to ice fishing.