Lake ice won't stay nice for long

Nov 27, 2019

Credit Department of Natural Resources

Ice skaters and ice fishermen had a brief chance to get out on area lakes this week. But if you missed that window, you might be hanging your skates back up again for a while.

Temperatures dipped into the teens and single digits this past week or the first time this winter, and ARC Lake in Soldotna had a crowd of skaters Tuesday. But with the forecast calling for snow Wednesday, followed by warming and rain on Thanksgiving, don’t expect the ice to stay nice for long.

Leah Eskelin is a ranger with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. She recommends being cautious if you’re hoping to get out on a lake over the holiday weekend.

“These days, we don’t really use a calendar anymore for, ‘Oh, by Thanksgiving, it’s always good to ice skate.’ We need to really be paying attention to weather patterns,” Eskelin said. “And we were all in short sleeves a week ago, right? It has been a very mild fall and winter and it takes those really cold temperatures, especially overnight, to freeze up those lakes.”

Take an auger or some other way to check ice thickness.

“Don’t take anyone else’s word for it or the fact that you see tracks or that kind of thing. You have the personal responsibility to go and check your ice thickness and whether you have overflow,” Eskelin said. “That will give you a sense of what the conditions have been on that lake between the time that you’re planning on going out and the last 24, 48 hours.”

The Department of Natural Resources recommends four inches of ice thickness for walking, skating or ice fishing, 5 to 6 inches for snowmachines, 8 to 12 inches for a car or small truck and 12 to 15 inches for a medium-sized truck. The latest version of the chart recommends more than 100 inches for Godzilla, but we’re a long way from that point.

And don’t expect ice thickness to be uniform across a lake.

“Depending on the depth of the lake that they’re on, the ice conditions can be very different. Just like when we see it melt, right? We see things kind of melt out in the middle first, and then holes cracking and opening up,” Eskelin said. “Each lake has its own personality with the way ice grows on it. So, especially early days like this, it’s really important to pay attention and drill more than a couple test holes.”

A safer recreational bet over the holiday weekend is to cut a Christmas tree. The refuge is open to tree cutting from Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Day. It’s limited to one tree no more than 20 feet tall and it must be at least 150 feet from roads, trails, campgrounds and other developed areas. Cut the stump as close to the ground as possible. When you get the tree home, let it warm up a bit in a garage or propped up next to the house for a day or so.

“These trees have been out and they’re frozen. More for the health of tree going forward, because you want it to kind of wake back up and start pulling water so it doesn’t drop all its needles in the next couple weeks, once we cut that tree down we take it into our garage for a day or so, let it thaw,” Eskelin said.

Areas affected by the Swan Lake Fire are closed to tree-cutting. Eskelin recommends areas off Swanson Lake Road and Funny River Road. And the refuge is still closed to snowmachining. Eskelin said the refuge will be keeping an eye on snow accumulation today and this weekend. You can keep an eye on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge page on Facebook for an announcement when snowmachining opens.