01-19 Thin Ice Craig

Craig Dunn Jr. caught a two-pound lake trout in 19 Mile Bay, Lake Winnipesaukee, in Tuftonboro, where he said the ice was three inches thick. There aren't many areas of safe ice on Winnipesaukee, which is unusual for this time of year. (Courtesy photo)

LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE — It’s a case of simple cause and effect. This winter hasn’t been as cold as usual, so larger bodies of water aren’t freezing over on the usual timeline.

“Not very good ice conditions,” said Craig Dunn Jr., a sophomore at Inter-Lakes High School who helps his father run Dunn’s Family Bait Shop in Moultonborough. They stock live bait to sell to ice fishermen – and business would be better if there were more ice to fish on, he said. “We just don’t have cold enough weather, and the wind has affected it.”

Stay safe

Dunn said that there is some ice to be found on smaller ponds, and in some coves of Lake Winnipesaukee, but that there’s also a lot of thin ice and open water. “Stay safe,” he said.

That's also what Kirk Beattie, chief of Laconia Fire Department, said.

“There’s not a lot of ice out there right now, even though we’re coming up on middle to late January,” Beattie said. His department hasn’t responded to any ice emergencies yet this winter. People tend to get into trouble after there’s been a solid freeze, followed by a warm period or rain that weakens the ice. “We haven’t seen that first full freeze-up,” he said.

Beattie said he recently toured all of the water in his jurisdiction, and found that there’s just enough ice to get people into trouble.

“There’s just no consistency to the ice. There’s places where there’s thin ice, places where there’s no ice and places where there’s some ice,” Beattie said. “Where there is strong ice and people are walking, it doesn’t take long for them to get into dangerous ice… It does turn dangerous very quickly.”

Warm January

Hunter Tubbs, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service station in Gray, Maine, said ice has been late to form across northern New England, and it’s not hard to see why.

“We are running well above average in January, and we were also above average in December,” Tubbs said.

The Weather Service’s data for Concord show that the city’s mean temperature for December was 3.2 degrees warmer than normal, and Tubbs said that January’s mean temperature has been more than nine degrees warmer than normal.

Tubbs discounted the conventional wisdom that a hot, dry summer, such as the one New England saw in 2020, would lead to a cold, snowy winter.

“There’s not a strong connection between the weather we get in the summer and what we get in the winter,” Tubbs said. “Our winters have been trending warmer, and this month has been warmer than what we expect.”

Ice on the horizon?

Tubbs said that ice forms first in “pockets” on the water’s surface. “As it gets colder, these pockets of ice combine and form an ice sheet,” he said, "then with yet colder temperatures the ice sheet grows thicker.”

There is cooler weather in the forecast, Tubbs said, but not enough cold for the ice to catch up to where it normally would be at this time of winter.

“It’s going to get colder than average, but we’re not expecting an arctic air mass to bring us below average,” he said.

Beattie said he hopes people base their activities on the conditions they observe, rather than the date on the calendar. Just because there’s usually good ice around the end of January doesn’t mean there will be good ice this year.

“Where it’s just starting to form, it’s not safe. I would recommend that people are not out there at this point,” Beattie said. “One thing that we always throw out there, when it starts to be safer, don’t go out alone, don’t drive vehicles out on it if you’re not one hundred percent sure it’s safe. Kids shouldn’t play on the ice alone, and if you don’t know the thickness, don’t be out there.”

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