RACINE — Southeastern Wisconsin is on thin ice.
A combination of unseasonably warm weather and recent rain has left remaining ice on local lakes thinned and a risk to outdoor enthusiasts, according to local authorities.
“It’s really an inconsistent condition out there,” Jason Roberts, southeast recreational safety warden for the state Department of Natural Resources, said. “It’s really tough to give a green light to any ice conditions out there.”
Roberts said the DNR has received a number of reports of both recreational vehicles and ice houses falling through lakes in the region.
In one instance, an all-terrain vehicle fell through thin ice at Wind Lake on Jan. 5, followed only hours later by a snowmobile near the same location.
Lt. Bradley Friend of the Racine County Sheriff’s Office is the commander of the Racine County Dive Team and constantly carries a beeper so he can quickly respond to events like the one on Wind Lake.
This time of year is typically one of the busiest for the dive team, Friend said, adding that the recent bout of warm weather has him increasingly worried his beeper will be going off.
“People see that conditions are solid on one part of the ice,” Friend said. “But they are not solid on another part of the ice, so it’s this false sense of security.”
General guidelines from the DNR recommend at least 4 inches of ice for foot travel and at least one additional inch for use of recreational vehicles like a snow mobile.
And while warm January weather has worked to thin ice on Wisconsin lakes, Roberts said, recent rain in the southeastern part of the state may also have an effect.
When rain accumulates on top of already formed ice, it can create air pockets which can take a toll on the integrity of the ice, Roberts said, meaning even with a recommended depth of ice on a lake, people may still be at an increased risk.
“There’s no such thing as safe ice,” Friend said, adding that anyone who decides to head out on the ice should be testing it early and often with an ice auger.
And in general, Friend said, it is always best to head out with another person, a cellphone and picks of life, which can be purchased at sporting good stores and can be used to claw out of the ice.
Ice safety tips
• Use an auger to test the depth of ice early and often.
• Have easy access to ice picks or picks of life.
• Don’t go out alone.
• Carry a cellphone.