Two incidents in the last two weeks on Clear Lake as well as the deaths of two people over the weekend on a Minnesota lake are prompting renewed warnings about people driving vehicles onto frozen lakes. Iowa Department of Natural Resources conversation officer Ben Bergman says if you do decide to drive your car or truck on the ice, be very aware of the conditions in front of you.
He says watch for hazards and look ahead when you drive. He says you should drive slow because you can’t see heaves in the ice until you are on top of them because they are level. Bergman says lake conditions across the state aren’t normal because water levels are lower due to the drought.
The ice conditions can be worse if a lake like Clear Lake has an aeration system that is used in the winter. He says it’s caused some different seams and pressure ridges on lakes that aren’t typically seen. He says strong winds have caused ice on lakes with aerators to have water undercut the ice, causing seams to be weak.
Bergman says with warmer temperatures possible in the next few days, ice conditions can change quickly. He says given the low water in the lakes, the sunlight penetration causes the bottom of the lake heat up and that can cause ice heaves or ice movement when it re-freezes and change the conditions quickly. He says it takes a good strong week of above-32 degree temperatures both day and night to deteriorate ice to “a nasty condition.”
Bergman says you should always consider yourself at-risk if you are going to be out on the ice. He says they can give recommendations dealing with ice thickness on what’s typically safe for foot or vehicle travel on lakes, but the only absolute is to stay off the ice, because it’s never safe and you never know what it’s going to do.
Bergman says if you are going to take your vehicle out on the ice, be prepared in the event something does happen. He says make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. He says pack away some simple gear like an ice pick or ice cleats to get traction on the ice, or a life jacket in case you do go into the water.
A 17-year-old Clear Lake boy escaped injury when he was driving out on the ice at night two weeks ago and his vehicle partially went through the ice. Last Wednesday, a Mason City man wasn’t injured after his vehicle broke through the ice after hitting an ice seam.
Three people, including two this past weekend, have died on Lake Minnetonka when their vehicles plunged through the ice. DNR officials are also continuing to warn people to stay off the ice at Cedar Lake near Nashua after a hydraulic hose on one of the seven gates in the dam broke last week, causing the water level to drop and create dead air space between the water and the ice.
The Army Corps of Engineers is warning people to stay off the ice at Saylorville Lake north of Des Moines due to low water levels that may make the ice unstable.
By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City