Temperatures are continuing to get colder and soon ice will begin to develop on the many lakes across the Valley. While ice fishing and ice sports are fun, this is an important time to review ice safety precautions to ensure that you have fun this winter.

How thick does the ice need to be?

There are multiple activities including ice skating, hockey, ice fishing and snowmobiling that people like to take part in during the winter months. How thick does the ice need to be to support these activities?

Ice thickness needed to support a person, snowmobile, car, and truck.

First, make sure that the frozen body of water you are traversing is stagnant like a lake or a pond. The moving water in rivers and streams can make the ice pack extremely unreliable and breakage is more likely.

If the ice pack is less than three inches thick then you should stay off the ice. Once the thickness of the ice increases to four inches, then it can support a person on foot or skis.

The ice needs to be 5-7″ thick to support snowmobiles and then 8-12″ thick to support a car or a small pickup truck. If you drive a larger truck then the ice needs to be over a foot thick to ensure that ice breakup does not occur.

The amount of time it takes for ice to occur on lakes is a function of lake depth and wind speed. Typically, there needs to be multiple days of temperatures well below freezing and calm winds for thick ice to form.

What are helpful items to take on the ice?

First and foremost make sure that you are relatively near the shoreline if you are testing the thickness of the ice. You can use an ice pick to make a hole and then use a tape measure to measure the thickness of the ice. Remember, that the ice needs to be over 4″ thick before you step on it.

Once you have determined that the ice is thick enough, there are a few other things you can utilize to ensure that you have a fun but safe day on the ice.

First, one important tool to bring is a safety rope. A rope between 50-100 feet is recommended in the event that an accident happens. If you are fishing, then an ice auger would be a good idea to drill a hole in the ice that prevents breakage elsewhere.

Another important tip is to always bring some form of communication with you on the ice. Most people have cell phones, but if you do not then you could also bring a two way radio with you. Most importantly, never go out on the ice alone. You should always bring someone with you in case of an emergency.

Another item to bring would be a tape measure or a ruler to measure the thickness of the ice. Also, make sure that you bring a cell phone or a two-way radio in case of an emergency and never go out on the ice alone.

How do lakes freeze?

Water is one of the most fascinating compounds in the universe. While it is not the sole reason for life on the planet Earth, it’s abundance on this planet is the reason that life has flourished. Water plays a massive role in all three phases and the formation of ice might be the most important.

Water is the only naturally occurring substance on Earth that can be found in all three phases: gas, liquid and solid. Perhaps it’s most unique quality is that water as a solid (ice) is less dense than water as a liquid. This, of course, allows ice to float on top of liquid water which is something you probably learned at a young age.

However, this has a profound effect on ecosystems that are situated in colder regions of the world. Instead of lakes freezing at the bottom and forcing aquatic life upward, lakes freeze from the top down which allows aquatic life to persist.

The science behind this is fascinating. Water becomes the most dense at a temperature of 39°F. When water becomes colder than this in a lake then the colder water actually travels to the surface and the “warmer” water travels deeper in the lake.

The water at the top of the lake then interacts with the colder air above and begins to transition to ice. However, eventually, the ice becomes so thick on the top of a lake that it acts as an insulator for the water below. This is why lakes typically do not freeze solid and aquatic life can continue to thrive. It’s almost like water had aquatic creatures in mind when it was created!

So, the next time someone says that water is boring you can tell them about its amazing properties!