Winter risks: Don’t find yourself on thin ice
Beacon-News Staff January 1, 2013 10:18PM
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
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.
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.