As warmer temperatures roll into the Great Lakes region, this year’s near-record ice coverage will soon be only a memory. After a series of rescues conducted by the US Coast Guard and local authorities last week, officials are warning ice fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts to be careful as lake ice melts.

“Ice conditions are rapidly changing,” said Karl Willis, with the Coast Guard 9th District Command Center in Cleveland. “Warming temperatures and wind significantly affect ice strength and can lead to extremely hazardous conditions with a high probability for drifting pack ice.”

According to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the current ice cover for the Great Lakes stands at 54.3 percent. While it is an impressive number this late into the year, it is a dramatic drop from last month’s 92 percent ice coverage. Many parts of the Lakes are already ice-free, although Lake Superior is a notable standout and still boasts ice coverage well above 70 percent.

Coast Guard officials warn that the ice can be unpredictable. Last Monday, a group of 15 to 20 people were reportedly trapped on a drifting ice floe near Duluth, Minnesota. Thankfully, the group managed to jump back to land as the ice floe neared shore.

Rescue crews near Harrison Township, Michigan also intervened when four people became stranded on Lake St. Clair due to ice breakup. Due to the shallow water levels, responders were able to walk the group safely off the ice.

The Coast Guard is recommending all anglers wear proper clothing, stay in groups, and know ice conditions beforehand. Proper equipment such as life jackets and ice picks can also be life-saving.

Image courtesy US Coast Guard

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