MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Ice-out has been declared on most Twin Cities lakes in a sign that spring is finally here –but you might not want to take the boat out yet.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office says this year’s minimal snowfall and mild winter made the “ice-out” come earlier this year, but they say the water is still dangerously cold.

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has already declared most Twin Cities lakes clear of ice, but the busiest lake, Minnetonka, still has an inch-thick ice mass in the middle.

Even once that’s gone, authorities are warning that the water isn’t safe for spring and summertime activites.

Boaters say that once Lake Minnetonka is officially “ice-out,” it’s a sure sign of spring.

“It’s usually one of the last ones to go because it’s such a big lake,” Lt. Chris Mathisen said.

Lt. Mathisen is with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. They say an ice-out is expected on the 14,000-acre lake within the next few days, about three weeks earlier than last year, which poses a safety concern.

“It’s a little deceiving,” Mathisen said. “You got the kayaker here, the sun is shining, but the water is very cold.”

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Officials say the waters hover at around 43 degrees this time of year. At that temperature, hypothermia can set in within 3 minutes.

“You’re not going to be able to use your extremities to help save yourself, so we’re kind of urging everyone to make sure you’re wearing a life jacket,” Mathisen said.

Although wearing a safety gear is safer, officials say the safest way to enjoy the water is just to wait until the water gets warmer.

“We’re, for the most part, staying off, with the cold temperatures unless we have to be out there,” Mathisen said.

For those who just can’t wait to get back out on the water, officials urge caution.

“Just use some common sense and make sure you use that life jacket,” Mathisen said.

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Although the term ice-out may sound like the entire lake has defrosted, it really means enough ice is gone that all of the shores and channels can be safely navigated by a boat.

Kate Raddatz