Abnormally warm temperatures this month have Minnesota and North Dakota officials warning anglers about thin ice and cold water safety.
Two North Dakota anglers were rescued from a lake in Kidder County Tuesday night after they couldn't get back to shore – the ice heaved and melted away from the shoreline, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department says.
“This was a serious situation where everything turned out OK,” the agency's enforcement chief Robert Timian said in the release. “And it’s also a critical warning that ice conditions can vary from lake to lake, and can even change during the day, depending on the weather. Anglers need to use extreme caution before venturing out on the ice right now.”
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources put out a similar warning Thursday, asking anglers and others to avoid early season ice.
The agency said although some lakes in northern and western Minnesota had a layer of ice by the end of November, recent temperatures have "degraded ice conditions" making them unsafe to walk on.
Last year, five people died after breaking through the ice on Minnesota lakes. No fatalities have been reported this winter, but the DNR says there have been several emergency ice rescues in the past few weeks.
The DNR suggests staying off the ice until 4 inches of "new, clear ice is present." DNR conservation officer Lt. Adam Block says it's going to take "several consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures before enough solid ice has formed to support foot traffic, and even longer before snowmobilers should be on the ice.”
Wear a life jacket if boating
Officials are also warning about the importance of wearing a life jacket when boating at this time of year.
Despite the mild December we've been having, water temperatures are "dangerously cold" across Minnesota, Debbie Munson Badini, the DNR boat and water safety outreach coordinator, said in the release, adding that falling into cold water can "incapacitate you within seconds."
One-third of boating fatalities typically occur during "cold water season," with the majority of deaths caused by drowning due to not wearing a life jacket, the DNR notes.
So far this year, there have been 18 boating fatalities reported – nine of those involved boaters dying in cold water, the DNR says.