Unsafe Ice Conditions Throughout New Hampshire

Above-normal temperatures and high winds have affected ice formation across the state of New Hampshire. Fish and Game Department officials strongly urge anglers to use caution before venturing out on the ice, especially with the start of the Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby (February 11-12) just days away.

A recent aerial survey of Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire's largest lake, by the N.H. Civil Air Patrol revealed treacherous ice conditions and even some areas of open water over much of its surface. Photos of Lake Winnipesaukee taken by the N.H. Civil Air Patrol on February 4 show large river-like strips of open water running from the south tip of Rattlesnake Island both east and west completely across the lake. Open water could be observed both northeast of and southwest of Rattlesnake Island. In the area known as the "Broads," numerous cracks appear to have separated, revealing open water. Another long opening in the ice runs from Welch to Lockes Island, and there are some areas of open water in the bay formed by the end of Moultonboro Neck, Timber and Governors Island.

"Many areas that have traditionally been safe for ice anglers and other outdoor recreationists are not safe this year," said Fish and Game Lt. James Goss. "We are urging people to use the utmost caution before you go out onto any frozen waterbody. Especially with this year's unusual weather patterns, don't take chances -- be sure to check the ice thickness for yourself."

Because of the unpredictable ice conditions, it is not advisable to drive vehicles onto the ice, Goss said. Those on foot should carefully assess ice safety before venturing out by using an ice chisel or auger to determine ice thickness and condition. Continue to do this as you get further out on to the ice, because the thickness of the ice will not be uniform all over the waterbody.

Though all ice is potentially dangerous, the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., offers a "rule of thumb" on ice thickness: There should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel, and eight to ten inches of hard ice for snow machine or All-Terrain Vehicle travel.

Keep in mind that thick ice does not always mean safe ice. It is possible for ice to be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions. Weak ice is formed when warming trends break down ice, then the slushy surface re-freezes. Be especially careful of areas with current, such as inlets, outlets and spring holes, where the ice can be dangerously thin.

Tips for staying safe on the ice include:

  • Stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy. Don't go on the ice during thaws.
  • Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots.
  • Small bodies of water tend to freeze thicker. Rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weaken ice.
  • Don't gather in large groups or drive large vehicles onto the ice.
  • If you do break through the ice, don't panic. Move or swim back to where you fell in, where you know the ice was solid. Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. A set of ice picks can help you pull yourself out if you do fall through the ice; wear them around your neck or put them in an easily accessible pocket. Once out of the water, roll away from the hole until you reach solid ice.

Ice safety is also very important for snowmobilers. Don't assume a trail is safe just because it exists; ask about trail conditions at local snowmobile clubs or sporting goods shops before you go.

For more safety-related news, click here.

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