Deep Freeze & Thaw Can Lead to Dangerous Ice

Maryland Park Service and Natural Resources Police remind you that walking on the frozen Chesapeake Bay or area ponds can turn into a struggle to survive.

“Whether you’re ice fishing for northern pike, snowmobiling on Deep Creek Lake or playing hockey on a frozen cove, respect the ice,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, Maryland Natural Resources Police superintendent.

Ice flows on Shenandoah River, Virginia
Ice flows on the Shenandoah River. Cullers Overlook, Shenandoah River State Park (Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks)

No ice is guaranteed safe. Anyone who decides to go out onto a frozen body of water must make a personal decision to do so, realizing that there is a degree of risk associated with this choice.

“There are many factors that can affect ice quality, strength and thickness,” Johnson says. “For these reasons, there just aren’t any hard and fast rules about ice safety.”

Ice fishing on Deep Creek Lake
Monty Cowan caught and released this 32-inch northern pike while ice fishing in the Sky Valley area of Deep Creek Lake. (Photo courtesy Maryland DNR)

Experts offer these tips:

  • Stay off ice less than 4-inches thick.
  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Ice blue in color or clear indicates it’s high density and stronger.
  • Be mindful of wind conditions. Light winds speed up the formation of ice. Strong winds force water from beneath the ice and can decay the edges.
  • Snow can inhibit freezing or mask cracked, weak ice and open water areas.
  • Ice over brackish water or saltwater tends to be weaker than ice over fresh water.
  • Never go out on the ice or attempt to rescue someone alone.
  • Wear a life vest on the ice. Carry a couple of large nails, ice picks or wooden handle screwdrivers (they float) and some nylon rope or hiking stick. The nails or ice picks can be used to pull yourself back onto the surface of the ice if you fall through and the nylon rope or hiking stick can be used in the rescue of another.
Fox on ice
Photo courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Should you break through the ice, turn toward the direction you came from – toward solid ice. Try to gain hold on the unbroken surface of the ice, and inch forward by kicking hard with your feet. If the ice breaks, slide forward again. Once you are out of the water and are lying on the ice, roll away from the hole until you are on solid ice.

To report people, pets or wildlife that have fallen through the ice, call either 911 or the Natural Resources Police dispatch center at 410-260-8888.

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