January 1, 2013, Groveland Township, MI.  A lone fisherman (63) fell through the ice on Hartwig Lake.  The presence of his truck on shore and a large hole in the ice resulted in a search and recovery effort.  He was  a very experienced ice fisherman.

Contributing Factors and comments:

  •  The lake has no houses or roads on the lake leaving little likelihood of anyone hearing his calls for help.

  • The MODIS satellite images do not have sufficient resolution to see a lake this size but lakes about half a mile wide in the area were open on the 25th. It is possible that Hartwig Lake came in on the 23rd or 24th but more likely it came in on the 28th.  The average temperature over the four days between the 28th and the accident was 24 degrees, enough to grow about 3" of ice if the weather was clear and snow free. Small amounts of snow fell on the 29th and 30th . Even a little snow cover would have reduced the growth to under 2".  
  • The day of the accident was about 26 degrees. On a colder day it is easy to overlook that the daytime max temps since mid December were were near or above freezing.
  • A life jacket and ice claws probably would have resulted in a different outcome.  The victim's brother fell through while searching for him.  He wore a life-jacket which he attributed to saving his life. 
  • A family member urged the victim to take someone with him.  With two people on the scene there would have been someone to call 911. On the other hand,  finding someone who is willing to spend the day fishing on dodgy ice or waiting in the car is unlikely.


January 2, 2013, Champaign IL:  A man who was believed to be involved in a domestic disturbance ran from police onto an ice covered retention pond where he broke through about 50 feet from shore.  Rescue was called and efforts were made to recover the man without putting unprotected people at risk by going on what was obviously weak ice.  The man submerged 'after a while' and was recovered when a dive team showed up.

The pond is about 150 feet wide.

It looks like the pond froze on Dec 30 and got about an inch of snow the next day (it could have also frozen on the Dec 21-22).  The snow most likely limited growth to about 1.2" (the adult breakthrough thickness for cold ice). The police and firemen on the scene correctly chose to wait for properly equipped rescue personnel. 

Ropes were thrown toward the victim in an unsuccessful effort to give the man something to hang onto so he could be pulled to shore.  Throw ropes designed for ice rescue can be thrown about 75 ft although not with great accuracy.  Coiled rope and most improvised throw ropes can't be thrown that far. 

With a couple hundred feet of rope  it might have  been possible to have two people walk the rope  to the man by starting at the end of the pond and having each person walk along the opposite sides, pulling the rope along between them. If enough rope was not available, fire-hose probably would have been a reasonable substitute.




January 2, 2013, Hammond IN.  A man (50) fell through thin ice on Wolf Lake about 10 PM.  He was under the water for 20-25 minutes.  He was skating with another man who also fell through.  The second man  was able to self rescue and call for help.  Watch the video in the news report linked to above to see how bad the ice looked the next day.

Wolf Lake is on the heavily developed south west shore of Lake Michigan


Contributing factors and things that could have changed the outcome

  • Skating at night makes it hard to see the subtle indicators of thin ice.
  • The moon was a few days past full and may have been one of the reasons they decided to skate.  The moon does not provide enough light to see the subtle details of the ice.
  •   The temperature history shows the lake most likely did not freeze until December 22 and, possibly as late as December 30.  The temperatures  from December 23 to 31 were mostly a little above freezing. December 30 to  January  2 averaged 25 degrees.  In clear, snowless conditions this could make a bit less than 3" of ice.  It looks like it was cloudy more than half that period although there was no snow recorded.

Graph from wunderground.com

Life jackets would have almost certainly saved the day.  Ice claws would have made getting back on the ice or clawing over breaking ice significantly easier.  Test poles would have given the skaters a better idea of the ice thickness and strength and may have given warning that the ice was getting thinner (test poles are more effective in daylight when you can see the ice better  and recognize skinned over holes, frozen ice edges, etc).  Throw ropes might have allowed the second skater to rescue the first although from the description of events it sounds like the survivor never located the victim.



January 4, 2013, Cambridge Township, MI:  A 52 (or 62, depending on the report) year old fisherman drowned after falling through the ice on Timber Lake about 100 yards from shore.  The ice was reported to be two to three inches thick.  His fishing partner also fell in.  Whether the second fisherman fell through trying to rescue the first was not reported.  A local resident quickly went out in a flat bottomed boat and got to the second fisherman and held onto him  but was unable to pull him  into the boat (very difficult for one person). Two other residents went out with a rope in hand and were able to extricate the second  fisherman.  The  first man was recovered by a dive team.

Contributing factors:

  • In a news video (click here) there was snow and snow ice on the surface.  It might have been layered ice (snow ice over slush over black ice).  
  • 2 to 3 inches of snow covered ice is pretty marginal for people if they are not well prepared to fall through given that there are likely to be thin spots and they would be hard to spot with the snow cover.
  • As you can see in the following temperature history, after December 21 it had not been particularly cold or warm.  Periodic light snowfalls from December 24 to 30 probably insulated the ice sheet and slowed growth.This does not appear to be a 'recently thawed ice' situation given that the average temperature from Jan 1-4 was 19 degrees.


(Graph from wunderground.com)

Life-jackets would have saved the day.  Ice claws might have as well.  A throw rope or other rope may have allowed the second fisherman to do a rescue from far enough from the hole made by the first fisherman to avoid falling in himself. 

The ice fishermen in the follow up video had a spud (ice chisel).  They are excellent for ice testing. With a spud you can check the ice in multiple places with quick jabs. Checking  with a spud is much quicker than drilling  holes.   What ever tools the fishermen that went through had for ice testing, they apparently did not find the weak ice that they fell through.  

Being on a lake surrounded by houses allowed their calls for help to result in a successful Good Samaritan rescue and a 911 call.



January 7, 2013-Mount Olive, NJ:  Two teenagers (both 15) walked onto the thawed and thin ice of Budd Lake.  At about 6:20 PM they broke through 100 yards from shore.  Their calls for help led to Rescue (911) being called and caused a good Samaritan to unsuccessfully attempted to get them by walking out until the ice started making too much cracking noise.  Two other residents went on the ice with a boat but were not able to find anything in the dark.

Contributing factors:

  On January 8th it was sunny and reached 48 degrees

The lake probably froze on Jan 2 and 3.  It may not have frozen completely at that time.  After that temperatures averaged 34 degrees: not good ice making weather. 

Seeing fishermen on the lake may have given the boys the false impression that the ice was OK. Keeping children from making poor decisions about ice is not easy. For families that live near ice covered lakes the only thing that makes sense for 15 year old children is teaching them about risks (thawed ice, ice at night, fisherman may be avoiding bad ice, etc) and ways to minimize those risks (life jacket, ice claws, throw rope, test pole, etc).

The single person Good Samaritan rescue attempt was brave but unlikely to be effective and fairly likely to end with the rescuer in the water, complicating the task for the professional rescue team.  Fortunately he had the good judgement to turn back when the ice got noisy.   The two man boat attempt might have saved the day if they had been able to find the boys in the dark.



January 8, 2013-Lacon, IL:  Two men (62 and 68) were fishing on a farm pond.  A 911 call was placed in the evening by family members concerned about their not returning home.  The hole they apparently fell through was about 20 feet off shore.  The ice was reported to be 2- 4" thick.  The overnight temperature was 27˚ and the high on the 8th was 47˚.  One of the fishermen had expressed uncertainty about the quality of the ice to a friend a couple days prior to going fishing.



Life jackets and ice claws might have allowed the men to extricate themselves before swimming incapacitation set in roughly 10 minutes after falling through (with a life-jacket hypothermia takes roughly a hour to cause loss of consciousness with subsequent drowning).  If they did not fall in together the fisherman who had not fallen in might have had a chance to make a 911 call before trying to rescue his friend (in almost all cases the first rescue step should be to call 911 or alert someone nearby).  A throw rope might have allowed him to do the rescue without going on the weak ice near the hole.

On the day before the accident it reached a sunny 41 degrees with wind speeds in the mid teens.  Overnight  it got down to 27 degrees.  On January 8th it was sunny and got to 47 by early afternoon with winds of 10-15 mph.  For ice this thin, it is likely it was significantly weakened by thawing, especially any areas of small grain ice.  

Being close to shore is often not effective in reducing risk unless you can stand on the bottom.

 Another advantage of ice claws is they make breaking through weak ice easier.  With claws, 20 feet is a relatively short distance to have to break through. 




January 11, 2013-Sabula IA:  A fisherman (65) and his son (18) broke through the ice on South Sabula Lake (a lake on the Mississippi River). The 911 call came in at 4:39 PM.  The elder fisherman died at the hospital and the son was treated and released.


There is a high likelyhood that life jackets would have saved the day. They would have kept the victims heads out of the water until Rescue arrived.    Ice claws would have made getting out of the hole easier.  A throw rope would have allowed getting a rope to a victim quickly, while they still had hand strength to hold on.

This appears to be a warm weather driven accident.  The temperatures in the 4 days before the accident were mostly above freezing with mid-day temperatures increasing from the mid 30's on January 7th to 50 degrees on January 11th. 

(Graph from wunderground.com)

Fishermen falling through ice being weakened by warm weather is common.  In the morning when it has firmed up overnight it feels OK.  All too often they stay until the warming ice gets so weak that they fall through.   An ice sheet usually does not loose much thickness over a day in thaw conditions so thickness is not a  good measure of strength.  Assessing how much the ice has weakened is not easy as it depends on the thickness, ice type, the temperature history, the amount of sun and wind, etc.   If a spud can be driven through in one hard stab you should have been off the ice a while ago.    Small grain ice gets significantly weaker than large grain ice.  Gas hole roofs, iced over holes  and ice near pressure ridges are thinner and weaker than the surrounding ice. 


Penetanguishene Harbor: the red marker is the approximate location of the accident and the blue line is the probable intended route across the ice.

January 15, 2013-Tiny Township Ontario: After midnight a 19 year old man took a shortcut across the ice on Penetanguishene Harbor (Georgian Bay-Lake Huron) to meet friends on the other side.  He fell into a 5 meter diameter hole in the ice (probably associated with a pressure ridge across the mouth of the bay).  It is about a quarter mile across the mouth of the harbor or 8 miles around it.

Contributing factors: Night time, no flashlight(?), no ice claws, no flotation, no test pole, insufficient self rescue skills, alone.



January 16, 2013-Madison WI:  A 26 year old man attending a conference in Madison apparently took a walk on the partial ice sheet on lake Monona.  No breakthrough hole  was found in the ice so authorities suspect he may have fallen into open water.  His body was found in the lake on April 18.

The above map shows the approximate area of open water (or very new ice) on Lake Monona as seen on the MODIS image from January 14th.  The blue marker is approximately where the victim was thought to have accessed the ice.


  • The temperatures got up to 48 degrees in a two day thaw 5 days before the incident although it averaged in the high teens in the 3 days before the incident.

(Graph from wunderground.com)

  • Ice is interesting to many people and impulsive strolls on it are common.  Dr Giesbrecht's advice fits very well here: "Stay off the ice or prepare to go through" (life jacket, test pole, ice claws, self rescue skills, ice knowledge, good judgement) .
  •  In addition to impulsive strollers, many people on the ice do not carry this safety equipment and many lack self rescue skills. 
Channel between Wyzata and Grays Bays on the east end of Lake Minnetonka.

January 18, 2013-Lake Minnetonka, WI:  A family went for a drive on the ice on the lake around 5:00PM.  There were four people in the car: A father (41), mother, 2 year old daughter and an eight month old daughter.  The 8 month old was in a car seat.  The vehicle broke through while driving under the bridge shown above. The mother and two year old escaped from the vehicle. The father struggled unsuccessfully to get the 8 month old out of her car seat, making two additional dives before being taken out of the water. 


  • Don't drive on ice
  • Don't drive on ice with kids, especially with them strapped in.  If a driver took the most basic steps of preparing to be on ice in a car (lowering the windows, taking off seat belts and getting the kids in the front seat) most people would think better of proceeding onto the ice.
  • Going under bridges is not advisable, even on foot.  The water flow brings warmer deeper water to the bottom of the ice sheet causing  under-ice erosion.  The bridge eliminates also radiational cooling which is often an important contributor to ice growth.  Road deicing salts may fall on the ice under the bridge.  Often there is open water under bridges so it is obvious that it can't be driven on. 
  • There were two significant thaws in January to melt ice and, possibly, increase flows in channels under bridges.  It as sunny, fairly windy and 41 degrees when the accident occurred. 
    (Graph from wunderground.com)
  • Click here for another link reporting the 14 breakthroughs and three fatalities on Lake Minnetonka.  All of them were reported to have occurred at either channels (passages between separate bays in the lake) or pressure ridges. 
Lake Minnetonka is 10 miles west of Minneapolis.  The lake has many roads connecting islands and and peninsulas with water passages (channels) underneath them.  16 are shown on the above map.  The two yellow markers are where the two fatal incidents took place on the lake this season. Channels are great for boating  but hazardous for ice activities, especially those involving vehicles.



January 19, 2013-High Cliff State Park, WI:  Two men were driving ATVs on Lake Winnebago. They encountered open water about 300 feet from shore.  They both attempted to cross it.  The first man was successful, the second (age 42) was not.   He was under water for about an hour before being recovered by a dive team.


Possible sources of open water include a folded pressure ridge, a melted ridge or a lead. One picture from a low flying airplane shows a bunch of moderate size ice flows in a larger area of open water.  It is not clear if this was the accident scene. 

There is some confusion about when this happened (on the 19th or the 20th).  If it was the 20th there was a large (and unusual) mid-winter  ice shove at around midnight on the 19th (Saturday).  It was driven by west winds that gusted to 46 mph in Oshkosh.  The large scale ice movements that are involved with ice shoves can   break up areas of the ice sheet as shown in the low flying airplane picture (link above).   

This happened during the second significant thaw in the past two weeks.  The temperatures between the thaws averaged 25 degrees.  The warm weather may have contributed to accident and the ice shove.

(Graph from wunderground.com)

Crossing dodgy ice, let alone open water, in any vehicle is a high risk game and is even more so with wheeled vehicle.  Searching for a good crossing point and checking it out carefully is very important.

A lifejacket or floatation type snowmobile suit would have most likely changed the outcome.  A throw rope and ice claws could have made getting back on the ice easy.  A drill or spud would be handy for checking out the crossing.


January 18, 2013-Braidwood IL:  A lone fisherman (age 53) fell through the ice, most likely, sometime on Friday, January 18th.  His car was noticed the next morning. The victim had a flotation device which appeared to be effective  but he was unable to rescue himself. 

The  accident occurred is between Rt 129, Novy Rd and Coal City Rd. (Map from Google Maps)

Contributing factors and comments:

  • January 18th was sunny and windy with a maximum temperature of 43˚.  Ten days before the accident was the start of a 5 day thaw with an average temp of 40˚ and a 30 hr peak at 50˚ with a fair amount of wind.  This thaw is likely to have left holes and open areas on the ice sheets, especially at narrow areas with some water flow.  There was a little snow at the end of the thaw that may have provided enough insulation to slow refreezing of the thawed ice sheet.  The  5 days before the accident averaged 26˚and were mostly sunny.  It is likely that the ice was firm from overnight temps on the 17th and that it thawed/weakened significantly in the sunny, warm, windy conditions on the 18th.  

    (Graph from wunderground.com)

  • The victim appeared to have been a fit and experienced fisherman.  The fact that he had flotation shows he was thoughtful about the risk of falling through.   Why he was not able to self rescue is not known.  Possibilities include a laryngospasm from gasping in water,  too much weak ice around where he broke through, or he might not have been able to figure out how to self rescue without ice picks, etc. The January 1 Hartwig Lake accident and the January 26 Bayfield accident each had a report from a friend of the victim about their their lives being saved by a life-jacket or a flotation suit when they broke through in their effort to find or rescue the victim.


    • January 26, 2013, Bayfield WI:  A popular 34 year old fishing guide died when his snowmobile broke through ice on Lake Superior .  The ice thickness was 10" near by.  A friend unsuccessfully tried to pull him out and ended up breaking through the thin ice twice. He was wearing a flotation suit and was able to self rescue both times.   The victim was in the water for about 45 minutes before being pulled out by a Rescue crew in an airboat.


      • Apparently the victim often wore a lifejacket on the ice but did not have one on this day.  The fact that his friend was able to self rescue twice shows the value of flotation suits. 
      • A single person rescue of an an incapacitated adult in the water is unlikely to be successful, especially if the ice around the victim is weak or the victim reached swimming incapacitation and can no longer assist in his rescue.
      • Ice claws might have been helpful for getting back onto the ice. 
      • Temperatures had been well below freezing for two weeks before the accident (average 19 degrees).  There was almost certainly snow on the ice making thin or weak ice hard or impossible to spot.
      • Even though this area is protected by many islands, this is a huge lake with lots of big ice problems (waves, wind, currents, big ice sheets, etc).
      • The MODIS satellite images from 2008 to the present show a persistent area of open water/thin ice between Madeline Island and Long Island (sometimes extending all the way to the north-west shore from the end of Long Island). The accident was described as being just off the east end of Long Island

      MODIS image from Jan 15th showing open water in the South Channel


      MODIS Image Jan 22, 2013 snowing open water in the south channel between Madeline Island and Long Island.
      The resolution of the MODIS images is 250 M (roughly 800 ft) so pressure ridges and leads that are common on big ice are not visible.

      Sketch based on the Jan 22 MODIS Image. Light Blue is open water.  This open water between the eastern end of Long Island and Madeline Island persisted into February and may been a factor in the February 20th incident.


      January 28, 2013-Hubbard Lake, MI:  A fisherman (age 72) did not come home after a day of fishing on the lake. His family found his ATV near some dodgy ice.  They sent me some pictures.  It appears that he got off his machine to check out a pressure ridge.  From the pictures it looks like an old but active folded ridge with some areas of snow covered open water.  Checking a ridge out before crossing it is  the right thing to do.  He probably stepped on a thin spot, probably with a layer of snow drifted onto it. A spud should have found any weak ice easily however you have to be careful to not get a step ahead of your testing.  A lifejacket or ice claws might have helped.   This took place a few hundred feet from shore and (probably) late in the day so calls for help were not heard. 

      Link to Febuary 2013 incidnets