The Lifesaving Society is warning that it is still too soon to be venturing out onto the ice in southern Manitoba. 

Dr. Christopher Love is Water Smart and Safety Management Coordinator for Lifesaving Society Manitoba. He says we have not had consistently good ice formation weather so far this season. According to Dr. Love, what is not helping the situation is that the temperature is continually climbing above the freezing mark. He notes these yo-yo temperatures are weakening the ice formation. 

Dr. Love explains that what is happening is the ice is melting somewhat on these mild days, but then re-freezing at night. 

"And every time it does that, you weaken the ice," he says. "You end up with micro-fractures going through it, you can end up with air pockets or voids in the ice."

Dr. Love says he has seen posts on social media of the ice being 10 to 18 centimetres thick in some places. He notes theoretically that would be thick enough for someone to walk across. However, with the freeze/thaw cycle we have been experiencing in recent weeks, Dr. Love says that ice will be compromised. 

"Once that ice has refrozen, it will never refreeze to as much strength as it had the previous time," he says. "Because every time, those changes that are occurring continually and progressively weaken the final formation."

Dr. Love says in order for new, clear, hard ice to form, you basically need temperatures in the range of -10 to -15 degrees Celsius and lasting for about 24 to 48 hours with very little wind and no snow. He notes any other conditions during this ice formation, whether it is snowing or there is a current, will produce less than ideal ice.

Lifesaving Society Manitoba has some recommendations for how thick the ice should be before it is ready to be walked on. Dr. Love says new, clear, hard ice that is 10 centimetres or 4 inches thick, should be strong enough for someone to go skating or walking on. Dr. Love says someone wanting to drive a snowmobile or quad on, should wait until the ice is a minimum of 12 centimetres or five inches thick. And, if you are wanting to take a car or light truck across, the ice should be about 20 to 30 centimetres, or about eight to 12 inches thick. 

Dr. Love says there are other factors to consider, which could result in needing even thicker ice. For example, he says a snowmobile pulling a trailer will need more than 12 centimetres of ice. Dr. Love says stationary weights also place more stress on ice than moving objects. For example, a truck parked on the ice may need thicker ice than a truck that is in motion. 

Dr. Love says those planning to venture out onto the ice, need to prepare in advance, no matter what part of winter it is. 

"If you are planning to go out on the ice, then you need to make the choice in advance that you have to be prepared to go through the ice." says Dr. Love. "Because it's never going to be 100 per cent safe."

He says you should take with you an ice staff or an ice pole, which is essentially a walking stick with a spike on the bottom to give you extra traction. Not only will this help you with your walking, but Dr. Love says it may also help you catch the edge of the ice hole you are falling through. You can also use the ice pole to check for danger spots that might lie ahead of you.

Another recommendation is to make sure you are wearing something that will help make you float. Dr. Love suggests either wearing a life jacket or personal floatation device overtop of your winter parka. However, if you think that looks silly, he says you can buy a floater coat or floatation snowmobile suit, which is essentially a winter parka that is made with floatation material. 

If you do break through the ice, Dr. Love stresses the importance of staying calm. He notes if you are wearing something that will make you float, your head will stay above the surface which means you will be able to breathe. This is important because for the first 60 to 90 seconds you will be hyperventilating. 

"Once you manage to calm down, look around, figure out where your closest point of safety is," notes Dr. Love. "Generally means you are going to turn around and go back the direction you came from, because the ice was holding you until it broke."

He says you should move back in that direction and get your arms overtop of the ice. Dr. Love explains that you need to get yourself in a flat horizontal position by sort of bellyflopping onto the ice.

"Not doing a pushup straight up," he says. "It's much more sliding forwards with as much of your body spread out as possible."

Then, if you have planned ahead, Dr. Love says you should have ice picks packed. These are metal spikes with handles, which will allow you to pull yourself out of the hole. 

"You want to roll further away from the hole and then start crawling back towards where you know there is dry land or shore," he adds. "Once you are really, really far away from the hole, you might be able to get up and walk, but at that point it's going to become important that you are looking for help."

Dr. Love says hopefully you had someone walking with you who can now help you get to a point where you can get indoors, dry yourself off and get appropriate medical attention if necessary.

According to Lifesaving Society Manitoba, 30 per cent of drownings in this province happen each year between the months of October and April. Dr. Love says on average there are two drownings each winter that are related to ice. 


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