Reading The Ice

’Tis the season for much of the country to be – icy! Frozen bodies of water open up myriad opportunities to travel places by foot or machine that we couldn’t access in the warmer months. However, with that expanded means of travel comes the cautionary consideration of just how safe is that ice we want to cross.

Ice safety is a matter beyond just thickness or how cold it is outside. There are many factors that alone, and collectively, affect how safe ice is:

  • Overall climate/long and short term weather patterns can affect ice thickness, from the wind shifting ice around to thaw/freezing aspects of a body of water;
  • Ice color is often a good indication of how firm/solid ice is. Air or water spaces in the ice often show up as discolorations or mottled surfaces. Clear or blue ice is typically the strongest, safest ice;
  • Flowing water, particularly that which flows beneath the surface (from entering streams or massive thaws elsewhere) can create weakness in ice layers;
  • Cracks are common on lakes, but large fractures could put excess stress on the structural integrity of a layer of ice;
  • Ice that has thawed and refrozen might not be as strong as the original ice;
  • Holes in the ice, obviously!;
  • Depth of snow can affect how solidly frozen the ice has become, especially if snow (insulation) covered the ice before it completely solidified;
  • Thickness of ice;
  • Depth of water body over which ice has formed;
  • Size of the body of water frozen over.

Watson's Reading The Ice 1-16 ILLUST-ICE CONDITION FACTORSSecond-guessing ice without proper testing and precautionary probes can lead to chilling break-throughs. Know how to rescue yourself and others from the ice; perhaps travel in pairs, and error on the side of safety.

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2 Responses to “Reading The Ice”

  1. Shannon

    I’ve fallen through ice no fun informative article.

    • Tom Watson

      Shannon, yes, it’s a scary situation. I fell through the ice on a river north of Fairbanks, AK during the middle of winter (-30F outside) and still the ice broke through under me. I was close to the river bank and sprung forward and grabbed a branch to pull myself clear before sinking above my knees!