Lake ice warnings after skater's lucky escape in northern MN

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The cold weather has barely arrived and already ice warnings have been issued by authorities, after a skater had a lucky Thanksgiving escape in northern Minnesota.

The Duluth News Tribune reports a man skating on Lake Placid, a reservoir of the Crow Wing River near Pillager in northern Minnesota, fell through the ice on Thanksgiving morning.

Fortunately, the water in the bay isn't too deep, just four feet, so the skater was able to pull himself out, but it still prompted warnings from rescue crews to anyone thinking of venturing out on the ice.

Although temperatures have been dropping in the north, the prolonged fall means that lake ice isn't as thick as it might otherwise be at this time of year.

The News Tribune notes that the ice on Lake Placid was estimated at between 3-4 inches, which according to the Minnesota DNR is only just about safe enough to walk and fish on.

But the Cass County Sheriff's Office says that there is still a lot of varying ice thickness on bodies of water, causing much uncertainty for lake users.

"We often get calls at the Sheriff’s Office about ice safety and specifically if ice is safe on a particular lake or location," it said in a Facebook post. "These are tough questions to answer as we honestly don’t know, especially since conditions can change rapidly and daily. There really is no sure answer."

"You can't judge the strength of ice just by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature or whether or not the ice is covered with snow," it added. "Strength is based on all these factors – plus the depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, water chemistry and currents, the distribution of the load on the ice and local climatic conditions."

According to DNR figures, there were 3 ice-related fatalities in Minnesota last winter, all of which were caused by vehicles or ATVs falling through.

There have been 18 confirmed fatalities since the 2009/10 winter season, of which 5 people died from falls when they were walking on ice.

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