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The weather so far this winter has made ice conditions on lakes across the state a bit sketchy. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Tuesday reminded people to use caution if heading out on the ice because conditions are uneven.

The weather this month, which has included rain (tornadoes), snow, and fluctuating temperatures, has affected ice formation and has impacted the ice that already formed, with some lakes reported to have open water again.

This comes at a time when many anglers are itching to head out on the ice with their fish houses. 

“The week between Christmas and New Year’s is typically the kickoff of the ‘wheelhouse season,’ and we anticipate it’ll be the same this year, especially in the northern part of the state,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Enforcement Division director. “Whether you’re walking onto the ice or hauling out a shelter you’ll sleep in, checking the ice thickness regularly is absolutely vital and one of the easiest ways to ensure tragedy doesn’t strike before you arrive at your fishing spot.”

The DNR says anglers should check ice thickness with a spud bar, auger or other devices before going out on the ice — and check the thickness regularly. People shouldn't rely on tracks from others or social media posts to determine if things are safe. 

The DNR says ice conditions are never 100% safe but it recommends anglers stay on land until there are at least 4 inches of "new, clear ice." Those riding an ATV or snowmobile should wait until there is a minimum of 5-7 inches of ice, and those driving a truck or hauling a wheelhouse-type fishing shelter should wait until there's at least a foot of ice.

Unexpected falls through thin ice happen a lot in Minnesota, which can cause serious injury or death. Over the past five winters (2016/17-2020/21), 18 people have died after breaking through the ice, which is an average of 3.6 deaths per winter, according to the DNR.

Related [Dec. 6]: Snowmobiler goes through the ice on lake near Duluth

Related [Nov. 29]: 'Numerous' reports of people falling through ice, with conditions still unpredictable in Minnesota

A look at current ice conditions across MN

Ice conditions across Minnesota have been improving but some areas are better than others, according to DNR conservation office reports.

In northeastern Minnesota, conservation officers have reported improving ice conditions but ice is still thin on main areas of larger lakes. In northwestern Minnesota, conditions have improved and on many lakes in the Detroit Lakes area have 4-6 inches of "solid ice," but ice depth does vary greatly on bigger lakes. 

In the Brainerd lakes area, ice conditions are improving but they remain spotty, with warm weather and rain earlier this week leading to open water on some lakes. 

In the east Twin Cities metro, ice conditions still vary heavily and in the west metro, ice conditions have improved but vary greatly. In Towne Marina on Lake Waconia has been posting updates on social media, and on Monday said ice depths vary greatly on the popular lake, reminding people to check the ice conditions for themselves when heading out. 

In southern Minnesota, ice conditions are poor or spotty on many lakes across the region, with a conservation officer in the Rochester area said the ice is still "sketchy."

Tips to stay safe

The DNR says there are things people can do to minimize their risk when venturing out on the ice. They include:

  • Always wear a life jacket or float coat (except when you're in a vehicle)
  • Carry ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure. 
  • Check ice thickness regularly because conditions can change quickly.
  • Bring a cell phone or personal locator beacon.
  • Don't go out alone, and let someone know your plans. 
  • Speak with local experts about known hazards and conditions. 

The DNR has additional ice safety tips and information here

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