Despite cold temperatures, with several nights below zero degrees the past month, ice conditions on Brainerd area lakes remain inconsistent.
Tim Smalley, DNR water safety specialist, said the weekly reports from state DNR offices show ice conditions remain poor with anywhere from less than an inch to almost a foot of ice on area lakes. Compounding the problem is a layer of snow, which has slowed ice development and created a layer of slush on most lakes.
"It's weird how the ice is varied," Smalley said. "It kind of seems like the farther south you go the better it is. Then way up north, at Lake of the Woods, the ice is also very good. You guys are kind of in a pocket where it's dangerous."
Open water was prevalent along the Mississippi River this week as it wound its way through Brainerd. Area officials are warning people venturing out onto area lakes and streams that ice thickness is inconsistent, ranging from just a skim to as much as a foot of ice. There have been several reports of snowmobiles and ATVs breaking through ice on area lakes. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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So dangerous, in fact, that the Cass County Sheriff's Department on Monday warned residents that ice conditions were generally poor, varied greatly from lake to lake and a number of vehicles, including snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, have broken through the ice in the past week.
Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher said ice thickness varies from 10 inches down to a skim of ice. He attributed the uneven ice to the heavy snowfall from earlier this month, which acted as an insulator.
People venturing out on area lakes for fishing, snowmobiling or driving all-terrain vehicles need to use extreme caution and be aware of ice conditions, Fisher said.
"It's really treacherous," Fisher said. "You can't be too careful. The old adage is ice is never safe and in this case it's incumbent upon anyone to make sure there's an adequate thickness of ice. We know people are excited to get out but we can't get the message out enough that we want them to be safe in doing so, use common sense and keep safety in mind."
Sgt. Scott Goddard, Crow Wing County Sheriff's boat and water supervisor, said ice conditions in Crow Wing County fluctuate, from areas unsafe to areas that can hold snowmobile and ATV traffic.
"Basically, for the entire area, if you haven't inspected it personally it's unsafe until proven otherwise," Goddard said.
Jason Erlandson of Dave's Sportland Bait and Tackle in Nisswa said anglers are getting out onto smaller lakes, where as much as 10-11 inches has been reported, but snow cover and slush on the lakes has made travel on the ice difficult.
This past weekend anglers started hitting area lakes in force, Erlandson said, but so far he's received no reports of vehicles on lakes.
"For ice fishing it's not best conditions, but as long as people are using their heads and are being safe there are some spots you can get out to," Erlandson said.
This week's forecast also could have an impact on ice conditions.
The National Weather Service in Duluth forecast a high temperature of 28-33 degrees Monday.
That will be followed by temps of 27-32 degrees Tuesday and temps of 23-30 degrees Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Goddard noted the warmer weather will probably cause more flooding on top of ice, adding more weight with slush and making lakes that much more dangerous. Erlandson said the warm weather won't be helping anglers.
But warmer temperatures are not necessarily all bad, Smalley said.
"A few hours in the middle of the day above 32 degrees isn't going to hurt that much," Smalley said. "In fact, it might (pack) the snow down a little bit, remove the air pockets and knock the snow piles down a little bit. Temperatures above 32 degrees for a while might actually be good."
A guideline to follow, he noted, is if the temperature remains above 32 degrees for more than 24 hours people should stay off the ice for 24 hours after temps fall back below freezing.
Smalley advises people to use caution when venturing out onto area lakes, to check with local bait shops and resorts to determine where it is safe to travel.
The DNR recommends 4 inches of new, clear ice for foot travel, 5 inches for snowmobiles and ATVs and 8-12 inches for cars or small trucks. Using ice picks and a floatation device also is recommended when venturing out onto the ice.
"We've still got a way to go before a guy could start driving out there," Smalley said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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