Bad ice on the rise

PHOTO: Sharon Mollerus, Flickr CC
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

This winter, Minnesotans pursue an unrelenting quest for justice.

Check that. Just ice. Just some halfway decent ice.

This year’s January temperatures ran warmer than average. In addition, heavy snowfall during the early freeze produced poor, if not outright dangerous lake ice conditions across Minnesota. You know it’s rough because the requisite “area truck falls through ice trying to pull other truck from lake” story came before Groundhog’s Day.

“How’s the ice where you are?”

“Not so good.”

This question and answer combo became the standard line of conversation in every Northern Minnesota gas station starting last Thanksgiving. The topic completely supplanted sports, weather, and Facebook political memes that have been confused for news. No easy task.

“I heard about some good ice up at [redacted lake].”

“Nah, my buddy was fishing there and two feet of water gushed up the auger hole. Then he had to walk out because his four-wheeler became encased in slush.”

“No way!”

“Ya, then his feet got frozen in place so had to chew them off and crawl back to his truck. And then he couldn’t make the pedals work because his feet were back on the lake. Worse yet, he didn’t even get a bite.”

It goes on like this every time. It shows how much we take lake ice for granted around here. We live in a place where lakes freeze solid every winter. In fact, we’ve grown an entire economy and culture around this seasonal real estate. In other parts of the world water stays liquid all year round. So, I guess this is a “Brrrrrr-st World Problem.”

It’s always fun to drive out-of-state visitors out on a lake like it was just some open field. Then we say, “Ha ha, you’re in the middle of a lake right now!” Then they scream and scream. It’s the highlight of our winters.

But try to do that this year and your car gets stuck and those guests might actually perish. So now we have to sit around the house playing card games with them. Not nearly as fun. Nothing left now but the hyperbole.

“I heard up at [redacted lake] the ice froze into replica worm fencing like from a Civil War battlefield. Five of my buddies tried to charge it but only two came back. And they were never the same.”

“No kidding.”

“Ya, and when they drilled into that ice they hit a foot of frozen slush, nine inches of wet slush, six inches of ice, two inches of chocolate frosting, half a foot of Crisco and a solid 10 inches of peanut butter.”

“Was it name brand peanut butter?”

“No way, man. School lunch peanut butter. Nothing but wax and oil.”

“Oof. That’s rough.”

“Sure was. And their socks got wet, too.”

I suppose we Northern Minnesotans can draw lessons from the Year of the Bad Ice. First, we can never take the natural world for granted. It could be climate change, but then again that our climate was rather spasmodic to begin with. Either way, we don’t control it. Unless we do in which case we’re emotionally incapable of accepting such a troubling reality before about two-thirds of human life. (Much like how we handled the internet and Bob Dylan).

Second, we realize how the beginning stage of freezing impact the entire season of lake ice. It’s a little like how it’s so easy to screw up young children for the rest of their lives. All because they can’t honk the horn when they see the cops coming. Come on, kids, now daddy has to go away!

Third, there’s nothing wrong with a mild winter. We’ve mostly avoided serious complaints about the weather and we’re already well past the halfway point. Soon enough, it’ll be be spring.


And by “neat” I mean, “No ice.”

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.




  1. Darrel Wick says

    The truth is, we haven’t had “Good ” ice for at least 25 years. Something that could always be depended upon has changed. Talk to any remote individual that depends on it and they will echo the the same.

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