Posted at: 01/25/2013 6:33 PM
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- This week’s extreme cold is usually a welcome sight for outdoor sports fans who want lake ice as thick as possible for snowmobiling, ice fishing, and other activities.
But experts say the bitter cold may have actually made area lakes more dangerous than before.
One teenager in Clear Lake found that out the hard way Thursday night.
Police say a 17-year-old was driving on Clear Lake around 9:45 p.m. when his car broke through the ice, trapping him inside.
The Ventura Fire Department was called in to help with the rescue and thankfully the driver was okay.
But experts say it proves yet again that you can't rely on current air temperatures to judge ice safety.
"We've had quite a variation in temperature,” said Scott Grummer, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa DNR. “We're seeing some ice breaks or heaves in pressure points. Some of those areas, if you're not aware of the changing conditions, have been causing a few problems."
Experts say the recent cold snap caused even more water to freeze and expand, creating new weak spots in the ice.
“One day you go through an area and there may not be a heave or a buckle there, but it could form in just a matter of minutes,” Grummer said. “Even in the time you were out on the ice and come back, that's how changeable the ice can be."
And it isn't only the winter weather that can affect the ice. Experts say this summer's drought left water levels low, making for unusual ice conditions.
“There was a ridge or an ice heave associated with that shallow water that probably weakened that ice, when under normal lake levels that probably would have been safe ice,” Grummer said about the location where the car fell through.
And with some lakes frozen solid, and others still boasting open water, even experienced ice fishers say they're still very wary about going on any ice their unsure about.
“I'd feel safe driving pretty much anywhere on the little lake,” said fisherman Bruce Thill about Clear Lake. “The open water just puts that mindset, to my mind anyway, that it's not safe."
Experts say your best bet is to check ice conditions every time before you go out, and use common sense and stay on dry land if the ice seems unsafe.