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If the Ice is Grey, Stay Away!

Each winter brings news stories of rescues from thin ice. To prevent such incidents, understanding ice safety is crucial. Ice safety depends on its thickness: at least 15 cm for walking or skating, 20 cm for groups, and 25 cm for snowmobiling, as per the Canadian Red Cross. These standards apply to the densest ice forms.

There are methods to determine ice thickness. One direct approach is cutting or drilling into the ice, but this requires stepping onto it, which can be risky if the ice is not sufficiently thick.

Alternatively, complex calculations involving physics and mathematics can estimate the freezing rate of the water, factoring in variables like water area, depth, currents, and water composition. This method varies across different bodies of water.

A simpler, safer method from the shoreline is observing ice color. Blue or black ice, formed from direct surface freezing, is dense and strong. For safety, blue ice should be at least 15 cm thick for an individual, 20 cm for groups, and 25 cm for snowmobiling. Larger vehicles require even thicker ice: 30 cm for cars and light trucks, and 40-50 cm for larger vehicles.

However, white or ‘snow ice’ forms from a layer of wet snow freezing atop blue ice. It contains air bubbles, making it less reliable. Its safety depends on the thickness of the underlying blue ice. Caution is advised, especially with weather fluctuations or moving water underneath. A fresh snow layer on ice can hide thin areas and insulate, hindering the thickening of the blue ice.

White ice may be safe if the blue ice base is thick enough, but without a way to measure it, it’s safer to avoid it. Grey or greyish ice, indicating decay or melting, is unsafe and should be avoided. It’s thin and weak, often revealing the dark liquid water beneath.

So remember, for ice safety, prioritize color and thickness: blue or black for strength, white with caution, and avoid grey.

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