Water patrol warns about thin ice following warmer than average January

On the heels of a January thaw, officials are warning people to be extra careful when venturing out on the ice.

"I've never seen this thin of ice this time of year before," said Nicholas Detienne, an ice fisherman.

Lake Minnetonka is an oasis for ice fishing, but this year anyone driving a pickup or SUV on the lake could be on thin ice.

"I just take my side-by-side out,” said Detienne. “I leave my pickup on the boat launch to lessen my risk of going through the ice."

Once a week, deputies with the Hennepin County Water Patrol measure the thickness and quality of the ice on the lake. Right now, there's only about 15 inches of clear ice on the lake, the minimum needed to support the weight of a heavy vehicle, with several inches of frozen snow on top.

"Last winter we had a lot of ice,” said Deputy Alan Lange with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department Water Patrol. “Upwards of 30 inches of ice. A lot of clear ice. This winter it’s on the lighter side. You gotta use some caution because it’s not like normal winters."

The water patrol says the quality of the ice may be weaker than usual as well this winter because parts of it have thawed and re-frozen several times due to the recent warm weather. Other areas where thin ice is likely include near boat accesses and channels where flowing water may have eroded the ice from above or below.

"My best advice would be stay off all together,” said Deputy Lange. “There are plenty of areas on this lake that are easily walkable from shores. There's no need to drive out."

The water patrol says if you decide to drive on a frozen lake know which areas tend to have thin ice or open water or check the ice as you go to prevent your vehicle ending up at the bottom of the lake or worse.

"I wish it would stay colder for ice fishing,” said Detienne. “I like to snowmobile, but the weather ain't working this year for it. So you do what little you can."

For more ice safety tips, click here.