Article Posted: January 01, 201

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COLUMBUS, OH -- With the state experiencing an unusually cold December, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) cautions outdoor enthusiasts tempted with an early start to ice fishing or skating to do so with extreme caution.

Ohio's changeable weather, and the speed at which ice can degrade, guarantees that it is never 100 percent safe. Ice quality and thickness often vary greatly on Ohio waterways and numerous, often unseen, factors can change a safe outing to one that is deadly.

Before crossing any ice-covered water, ODNR encourages outdoors enthusiasts to consider that ice quality can be reduced by many factors.

Snow cover, wind, thawed and re-frozen ice and under-flowing water can all cause unseen changes in ice quality. Ice on private ponds with operating aeration systems is often weaker than it appears and may be unsafe. Commercial boat traffic on Lake Erie is extending longer than normal and also impacts ice quality.

Several natural resource agencies offer guidelines that suggest that for an individual to walk across ice it should be newly formed and at least four inches thick. However, once the same thickness of ice has aged through freezing and re-thawing or through other degrading forces, it may no longer be safe.

ODNR recommends that anyone planning on an outdoor activity involving ice-covered water to always be prepared for the possibility of cold water immersion.

In addition to the risk of drowning, an individual falling through ice may become victim to hypothermia, a potentially fatal loss of body heat that damages internal organs. Signs of hypothermia include: shivering, flushed or blue skin color, slurred speech, clumsiness and poor coordination.

How to be safe?

First, always remember that ice-covered water is never completely safe.

Anyone new to ice fishing, or interested in learning how to safely ice fish should seek out a licensed ice fishing guide. A list of certified guides is available by calling the ODNR Division of Wildlife at 1-800-WILDLIFE. Ask at a local bait shop about known areas of thin or dangerous ice.

Always go out with friends and let others know when you will be on the ice and when you will return. If possible, take with you a cellular phone wrapped in a plastic gag.

Check for safe alternatives to local streams or lakes for skating or sledding. Delaware State Park in Delaware County and Dillon State Park in Muskingum County offer free access to their ice skating areas.

Understand wind chill factors which are relative temperature guides. Although a thermometer may read 40 degrees Fahrenheit, a wind speed of 20 miles per hour can cause a body to lose heat as if the temperature were actually 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carry two ice picks, screw drivers, or large nails to dig into the ice and pull yourself out. They are much more effective than bare hands. Also carry a whistle or other noisemaker to alert people that you are in distress

Dress in layers and add extra clothing for the head, neck, sides, and groin, which are the primary high heat loss areas. While wool and modern synthetics are good fabric choices for clothing, cotton when wet is slow to dry.

Wear a life jacket. Life vests provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia.

Keep an extra set of clothes in your car in case you do need dry clothing.

Avoid alcoholic beverages. In addition to reducing reaction times, alcohol lowers your internal temperature and increases your chances for hypothermia.

Never drive a vehicle onto ice. Leave this to professional guides. This is extremely dangerous and most insurance policies will not cover ice fishermen's vehicles that have dropped through the ice.

The ODNR Division of Wildlife reports most Lake Erie ice fishing guides plan to begin escorting fishermen to western basin locations beginning in mid-January, depending on weather conditions. Due to highly variable lake conditions, anglers are encouraged to use the service of a reputable ice fishing guide.

Source: ODNR

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