The frozen pond in Third Lake where four kids fell through the ice and were rescued on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 31, 2013 6:52AM
It has been a pretty mild start to winter so far in Naperville, with very little snow.
That, of course, could change overnight.
Because of that, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is getting out the word about winter safety.
Winter offers many recreational activities in the district, with ice fishing, snow tubing and cross-country skiing just a few. They all depend on cold weather, ice and snowy conditions.
“Ice is building up on local lakes, so whether visitors are fishing or walking along the shore, they should always use caution,” says John Roschay, an assistant manager and longtime district ranger.
Most ice activities, including ice fishing and ice skating, require at least four inches of clear ice. When visiting DuPage County forest preserves, all ice-related activities are done at the visitor’s own risk. Rangers do not monitor ice conditions, which can vary greatly on a body of water.
As Roschay explains, “a lake with ice several inches thick in one spot may have very thin ice in another spot, so it’s important to check conditions continually. Visitors should never assume that any ice is completely safe.”
Wind, snow, rain, sunlight, water levels, underground springs and variations in temperature are just some of the factors that affect ice strength. When checking ice, look for these indicators of dangerous conditions:
Cracks, ridges or faults
Differently colored ice, especially dark gray or black
Open water in the center of an otherwise frozen lake
Ice that looks rotten or porous
Ice covered by snow, water or slush
Running water or bubbles visible under the ice
Hypothermia and frostbite are also serious seasonal dangers. When engaging in any winter activity, protect yourself from the cold by dressing in warm layers and staying dry. Wear an outer layer that blocks wind and moisture and an insulating inner layer that traps heat and wicks away perspiration. Wool, silk and synthetic fleece retain body heat better than cotton for winter clothing. Waterproof boots, thick socks, a hat and gloves or mittens help to keep extremities warm.
“Bundling up against extreme cold might seem like simple common sense, but it’s important to protect yourself in mild winter weather, too,” says Roschay. “Hypothermia can develop even with air temperatures above freezing, especially if you are chilled by wet clothing or sweat.”
Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, slurred speech and loss of motor skills. Signs of frostbite, which most frequently harms extremities like fingers, toes, ears and noses, include numbness, a white or grayish-yellow skin color or an unusual or waxy feeling to the skin. Seek medical attention to treat any of these conditions.
Roschay also notes that visitors should be sure to inform others of where they are going and when they will be back.
“Of course, the best safety practice is to experience the outdoors with another person so that you are not alone in case of an emergency,” he adds.
In any outdoor emergency, call 911 for help. To reach Forest Preserve District police, call 630-933-7240.