Ice Safety - When to Go Out on a Lake?

If you are a resident in the northern half of the United States, you probably experience lakes and other bodies of water icing over at some point during the winter. But, how can you determine if and when the ice is thick enough for safely going out on?

According to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, a general guideline for ice thickness is as follows:

2" or less, stay off the ice!

4" - Can support 400 lbs of weight; Ice fishing, ice skating, or other activities on foot

5" - Can support 800 lbs of weight; one snowmobile or ATV

7" - Can support 1,500 lbs of weight; group of people

8" - Can support 2,000 lbs of weight; car or small pickup truck

12-15" - Medium sized truck

16"+ - heavy cars and trucks

It is important to keep in mind that the ice thickness over a given body of water may not be uniformly the same; caution should always be taken.

When out on the ice, keep in mind any sudden changes in temperature or wind speeds. Gusty winds blowing with temperatures near or above freezing could erode ice thickness quicker than usual. Springs or areas of moving water under the ice can give the appearance that the ice is thicker than it really is. While some lakes and ponds may develop a thick enough ice sheet after a few days of below freezing weather, each body of water is different and it is important that you become familiar with the lake or pond that you intend to go out on.

Winter time can offer a unique variety of enticing outdoor recreation on local lakes and bodies of water. Knowing when it is safe to venture out on the ice and understanding the potential dangers is essential to ensuring the safety of you and anyone else who might be around.

More Weather Glossary

  • Hoar Frost

    After a cold, clear winter night without much wind, the ground and nearby tree branches may be covered by tiny, white ice crystals.

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