Temperature roller coaster leads to thin ice - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Temperature roller coaster leads to thin ice

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HIGHGATE SPRINGS, Vt. -

Mother Nature has thrown some extreme temperatures at us this winter and the thickness of the ice is showing it.

Typically the ice is at least 18 inches going into February, but that's not the case this year. "This is the least amount of ice I've seen going into February. All the reports I've seen are anywhere from 9 to 11 inches," said Gilbert Gagner with Bronze Back Guide Service.

Experts say it's generally safe to start walking on ice when it's around three inches thick. Four wheelers need five to six inches, and cars need at least eight to 10 inches of solid ice.  But even if it's thick, changing temperatures can still create weak spots. And that's where people or their vehicles fall through the ice.  

"The ice contracts and expands with the weather. The hotter the weather, the colder the weather, the ice will expand and it has to expand somewhere, and it makes pressure ridges,"  Gagner said.

The center of those pressure ridges can give way. In fact, just last Saturday a vehicle fell through the ice on Lake Memphremagog for that exact reason.

While some take risks, others do not -- even seasoned fishermen like Israel Holbrook from St. Albans. "I don't trust it at all. If I go fishing with somebody in the vehicle, I have them drop me off onshore and I walk out if they are going to drive," he said.

But the risks can be minimized by talking to the right people. "I don't generally tell people where to go. I tell people where to stop and ask. Stop by your local bait shops. These guys have a lot of information that's valuable to know -- the ice thicknesses, where to go," Gagner said.

Those people understand the numerous factors that impact ice thickness -- including water depth, water movement and even what color rock or sand is on the bottom of the water.
Experts also say make sure you go with a buddy and that someone on land knows where you're going and when you'll be back. Having the right equipment is also important. Always go ice fishing with a life jacket, cell phone, compass -- and especially ice picks.

"These are called Picks-of-Life. When you actually go through the ice they fit around your neck like this. If you ever go through the ice, you just grab these picks, pull them apart and now you stab them into the ice and pull yourself onto the ice. It's a big safety thing to have and they are only six or seven dollars but they will save your life," Gagner said.

A small price to pay to keep you safe on the ice in the winter.

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