COLUMBUS The current temperature plunge has left waterways ice covered, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) urges outdoor enthusiasts who venture onto frozen lakes and ponds for fishing, skating, and other activities to do so with extreme caution.
Ohio's changeable weather, and the speed at which ice can melt and shift, guarantees that ice-covered water is never 100 percent safe. Ice quality and thickness often vary greatly on the state's lakes and streams. And numerous factors (many unseen!) can change a safe outing to one that is deadly.
"We recommend that all persons who go out onto the ice wear a life jacket or float coat, be dressed appropriately to prevent hypothermia, and be prepared to handle any type of emergency," said Mike Quinn, acting chief of the ODNR Division of Watercraft.
Snow cover, wind, thawed or re-frozen ice, and under-flowing water all cause unseen changes in ice quality. Ice on ponds with operating aeration systems is often weaker than it appears and may be unsafe. Any boating activity that might occur also impacts ice quality.
In general, newly formed ice that is at least 4 inches thick will support an adult for walking. However, once the same thickness of ice has aged through freezing and re-thawing or through other degrading forces, it may no longer be safe.
ODNR recommends that anyone planning an outdoor activity involving ice-covered water wear a life jacket and be prepared for the possibility of falling through the surface. In addition to the risk of drowning, an individual falling through ice may become victim to hypothermia, a potentially fatal loss of body heat.
Tips for staying safe on the ice:
First, always remember that ice-covered water is never completely safe.
Anyone new to ice fishing, or interested in learning how to safely ice fish, should seek out a licensed ice-fishing guide. A list of certified guides is available at ohiodnr.com or by calling the ODNR Division of Wildlife's Sandusky office at 419-625-8062. Ask at a local bait shop about known areas of thin or dangerous ice.
Always go out with friends and let others know when you will be on the ice and when you will return. If possible, take with you a cellular phone wrapped in a plastic bag.
Use safe alternatives to local streams or lakes for skating or sledding. Delaware State Park in Delaware County and Dillon State Park in Muskingum County offer free access to their ice-skating areas. Check with your local state or metropark to see where conditions are suitable for skating.
Understand wind chill factors are relative temperature guides. Although a thermometer may read 40 degrees, a wind speed of 20 miles per hour can cause a body to lose heat as if the temperature were actually 18 degrees.
Carry two ice picks, screwdrivers, or large nails to create leverage for pulling yourself out of the water. They are much more effective than bare hands. Also, carry a whistle or other noisemaker to alert people that you are in distress.
Dress in layers and add extra clothing for the head, neck, sides, and groin, which are the primary heat-loss areas. Wool and modern synthetics are good fabric choices for clothing; cotton when wet is slow to dry.
Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket or float coat. Life vests provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia.
Keep an extra set of clothes in your car in case you do need dry clothing.
Avoid alcoholic beverages. In addition to reducing reaction times, alcohol lowers your internal temperature and increases the chances of suffering hypothermia.
Never drive a vehicle, snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle onto ice. Leave this to professional guides. This is extremely dangerous and most insurance policies will not cover ice fishermen's vehicles that have dropped through the ice.
Ice conditions on Lake Erie can vary from area to area and anglers are encouraged to use the services of a reputable ice-fishing guide. Additional information on waterway safety, fishing opportunities and other ODNR programs is available at ohiodnr.com.