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Winter risks: Don’t find yourself on thin ice

Winter offers many recreational activities — ice fishing snow tubing cross-country skiing name few — thdepend cold weather ice snowy

Winter offers many recreational activities — ice fishing, snow tubing and cross-country skiing to name a few — that depend on cold weather, ice and snowy conditions. But the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is reminding outdoor adventurers to be careful out there, especially on the ice. | File Photo

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Ice Danger signs

Wind, snow, rain, sunlight, water levels, underground springs and variations in temperature are just some of the factors that affect ice strength. When checking ice, you should look for these indicators of dangerous conditions:

Cracks, ridges or faults

Differently colored ice, especially dark gray or black

Open water in the center of an otherwise frozen lake

Ice that looks rotten or porous

Ice covered by snow, water or slush

Running water or bubbles visible under the ice

Updated: February 3, 2013 6:14AM

It may look tempting, but it’s not yet safe to venture out on the ice for winter activities.

“Ice is building up on local lakes, so whether visitors are fishing or walking along the shore, they should always use caution,” said John Roschay, an assistant manager and longtime DuPage County Forest Preserve District ranger.

Most ice activities, including ice fishing and ice skating, require at least four inches of clear ice, officials said.

The Fox Valley has seen its share of tragedies and near-tragedies over the past few years, when people ventured out onto unsafe ice.

In January 2009, fire department divers recovered the body of a 26-year-old Algonquin man who fell through the ice into the Fox River while snowmobiling in McHenry County.

Last February, a 43-year-old man riding a bicycle fell through the ice of a Streamwood detention pond but was rescued by village police and firefighters.

Dan Ferrelli, spokesman for the city of Aurora, said there are no safe places to skate throughout the city just yet. City officials are looking forward to that changing soon, as temperatures drop and colder weather sets in, he said.

When visiting forest preserves, all ice-related activities are done at the visitor’s own risk, Roschay warned. Rangers do not monitor ice conditions, which can vary greatly on a body of water.

“A lake with ice several inches thick in one spot may have very thin ice in another spot, so it’s important to check conditions continually. Visitors should never assume that any ice is completely safe,” Roschay said.

The Fox and DuPage rivers and streams around the area can be dangerous because of the constant current which makes it difficult for water to freeze other than at the surface.

Cold dangers

Hypothermia and frostbite are also serious seasonal dangers. When engaging in any winter activity, protect yourself from the cold by dressing in warm layers and staying dry.

Wear an outer layer that blocks wind and moisture and an insulating inner layer that traps heat and wicks away perspiration. Wool, silk and synthetic fleece retain body heat better than cotton for winter clothing. Waterproof boots, thick socks, a hat and gloves or mittens help to keep extremities warm.

“Bundling up against extreme cold might seem like simple common sense, but it’s important to protect yourself in mild winter weather, too,” Roschay said. “Hypothermia can develop even with air temperatures above freezing, especially if you are chilled by wet clothing or sweat.”

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, slurred speech and loss of motor skills.

Signs of frostbite, which most frequently harms extremities such as fingers, toes, ears and noses, include numbness, a white or grayish-yellow skin color or an unusual or waxy feeling to the skin.

Seek medical attention to treat any of these conditions.

Roschay also notes that visitors should be sure to inform others of where they are going and when they will be back.

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