April 27, 2017: Wrapping Up

If a lake thaws, and no-one gets to enjoy it, did it still melt? I flew every day this week, and I didn’t lay eyes on the lake once. We’ve had nothing but wind and snow and cold. I have no trips scheduled on the weekend, so I might as well try to put Ice Patrol to bed.

For my records, I’ll be saying that this year, Lake of the Woods was ice free on Monday, April 24th.

Not a very satisfying way to close off the Ice Patrol, I admit. You may be wondering if all these below-freezing temperatures mean we could be making new ice. Short answer: no. It’s been too windy for anything but the shallowest parts of the most sheltered bays to re-freeze. Slightly longer answer: watch out for ice formed from spray on your shoreline, dock and boat. You do not want to fall in the lake yet.

It could be worse, by the  way: you could live in Thunder Bay. They’ve had two days of horrendous freezing rain, and practically every flight in or out was cancelled during that time.

Let’s look at how it went this year. I describe the thawing of Lake of the Woods as a six week process, but I admit his is a rather rubbery statistic. While it’s usually easy to say when the thaw is complete, it’s more subjective to squint at the icy lake one day and whisper, “it begins.” This year, I started on March 14th, because that’s roughly typical. So if you’ll spot me that call, this year was just one day shy of the six week mark.

April the 24th is actually on the early side. Here’s my graph that breaks the spring down into 5-day periods. The brick for each year is stacked in the time-slot when the full thaw was complete:

So that’s it for now. If I ever get to fly in the sunshine again, I’ll try to photograph some sparkling water. Perhaps one of my other contributors will be able to fly this weekend and get some pretty pictures. It’s been wonderful to have help from so many other pilots this year, by the way: some are complete strangers, some are casual acquaintances, and of course, all of my friends at Walsten Air pitched in to help.

In the meantime, I’ll post my usual spring reminder about floatplanes. When seaplanes are landing or taking off they have the right of way over boats. When they’re taxiing, they have the same right of way as other boats, but they have no reverse, no brakes, and limited steering, so I ask you give them a wide berth. Please keep in mind that the portion of Safety Bay from Bush Island along the north side of Coney Island is a designated water aerodrome. In other words, an airport for floatplanes. Be vigilant there, and if you do see a plane coming, try to give the pilot room without making sudden, last-second moves.

Last, I’m going to unashamedly plug my book. Five Rivers Publishing is releasing Avians this summer. It’s science fiction for young adult readers. The Converts have tech, the Naturals don’t. Raisa is the girl caught in the middle.

AVIANS First Edition Cover

If you’d like some summer reading, Avians will be released on August 1st, and it’s available for pre-order now in either e-book or trade paperback format. You can find out more about it by visiting any of these links:

Five Rivers Publishing. Amazon. Kobo. Barnes & Noble.  I’m also planning an appearance at Elizabeth Campbell Books this summer. If you’d like a signed copy, keep an eye on Timothy Gwyn Writes for further details on that as we work things out. Oh, and I’ll be in Winnipeg for Keycon in May. I’ll be doing panels and presentations and a reading there, and giving away one or two signed advance copies.

And now, back to the lake. The Coney Island bridge is being taken out as I write this. And of course, now that I’m finished flying for the day,  the sun is coming out.

Have a safe and sunny summer.

April 24, 2017: Gone, Probably.

It’s always tricky to arrange a flight on the day the ice is most likely to be gone. I went flying today, but a wall of snow moving up from Minnesota blocked my view of the lake as we took off.

To the north, the skies were much clearer, so I snapped this picture of Silver Lake as we went by.

Silver Lake

This photo looks north. Skies were overcast, and the flat light makes it hard to tell if you are looking at ice or water. If you click on the picture to see the full-size version, you may find it easier to be sure. On Silver, it’s mostly ice. It’s a deep lake, and always freezes late and thaws late. The smaller lakes are open.

As to Lake of the Woods, my guess is it’s open. Ashley reported yesterday that she found only one small pan of ice, and with the wind we had, it should certainly be gone today.

Shoal Lake might still have some ice, but we won’t find out for sure until the weather lifts.

In any case, I doubt anyone had much enthusiasm for boating today. The temperature was below freezing, and heavy wet snow closed the trans-Canada highway all the way from Vermillion Bay to the Manitoba border.

Deck Furniture

This is how things looked at my house this afternoon. Ah, spring. Even when a run of warm weather brings us an early thaw, things have a way of averaging out.

 

April 23, 2017: Joe Wedge

Joe Wedge took these pictures Friday evening, and forwarded them to my Twitter account (@timothygwyn) today.

This first one is Ptarmigan Bay. Joe says it’s completely ice-free there.

Ptarmigan Bay

Joe tells me this is Ady Island. The photo looks north, so that must be Copper Island in the background.

The second shot is of Shoal Lake, looking south towards Spike Point.

Shoal Lake.

That places the photo at the east end of Shoal Lake, by Carl Bay. Keep in mind that these pictures were taken two days ago.

I don’t have a picture from her, but Ashley Kolisnik went flying today and sent me a text update through the comment form. In case you missed it, she says Lake of the Woods is 99% ice free as of Sunday afternoon. She found only a little patch of ice south of French Narrows, down by Butterfly Island, and she estimates it as half a mile long and about as wide.

Thanks, Joe and Ashley!

It has been wonderful to see so many people contributing to the Ice Patrol this year.

I’m supposed to go flying tomorrow, and I hope to be able to get a look at the lake then. However, there is a forecast for a significant snowfall starting Monday and worsening through the afternoon and evening, so the weather may not cooperate.

 

April 21, 2017: Ashley Kolisnik

Scroll to the bottom  of today’s post for a Friday afternoon update.

Ashley took these pictures and sent them to me yesterday, but for technical reasons, I didn’t receive them until today.

The best part is, I just had a comment from someone who was curious about Lunny’s Island and Bare Point. This drew my attention to the fact that I had flown all around both places without taking a clear shot of either. But Ashley did.

Scotty Island, the Manitou.

This is a close-up of Scotty Island, looking south west down the Manitou toward Whiskey Island.

Town Island

The second picture is shows the Manitou from a bit further east, with Town Island in the right foreground, and Scotty Island and Nanton’s Island under the propeller blade. Bell’s Island and part of Lunny Island are just above the aircraft’s nose.

Bare Point Marina, Bigstone Bay.

Bare Point itself is just off the right edge, but this is a great shot of the Marina, looking out over Bigsby and Queen Bee Islands and south east along Bigstone Bay.

Thanks, Ashley.

One other cool thing: Bill Whicher contacted me to show how the False Color images from the MODIS satellites make it really easy to distinguish the ice on Lake of the Woods. Heavy ice is a lovely turquoise colour. Thin or rotten ice doesn’t show up as well. For that, you want the True Color image. Both links are to images from April 19th, when skies were clear.  It looks as if the lake is down to about 10% strong white ice cover, with weak dark ice probably amounting to a further 10-15%.

 

Thanks, Bill.

4:00PM Update: Today’s satellite pictures just came out. They show ice nearly all gone.

True Color April 21      False Color April 21

 

April 20, 2017: Tipping Point

It’s been a whole week since I could upload pictures, so I’m very glad I could take some new ones today. A lot has changed.

We have reached the tipping point. In the early spring, I take pictures of patches of water surrounded by ice. When we reach the halfway point, my pictures start to be of the ice/water boundary areas.

Okay, let’s go.

Longbow Lake, Pine Portage Bay, Bigstone Bay.

This first shot looks south west. Longbow Lake is at the left, Pine Portage Bay is more to the right, and the big patch of ice is Bigstone Bay. Note that Longbow is completely open. In Pine Portage Bay, Northern Harbour has some water to work with, but you cannot yet sail out of the bay onto the rest of the lake.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version that’s zoomable to full resolution. That’s especially handy if you want to see something in the distance.

Next, we moved straight ahead to get closer to Hay Island.

Bigstone Bay, Hay Island.

Thunder Bay, home of Smith Camps, is at the left, with Long Point separating it from Pine Portage Bay, but Northern Harbour is just out of sight under the plane’s nose. There’s open water in those small bays, but as usual, ice in Bigstone Bay is holding out, making it tough to reach the area around Middle Island and Hay Island.

We went a little further to get a good look at Middle Island and Scotty Island.

Middle Island, Scotty Island.

The water’s wide open all the way to Scotty Island now, although a little pan ice is clinging to the north shore. Middle Island is mostly open, but it would be tricky to reach it from the east side. In the distance, you can see that Andrew Bay is open, but  there’s still lots of ice south of the Barrier Islands. Also notice that the Manitou is only open as far as Whiskey Island. Beyond that, the ice looks quite strong.

This next shot shifts the view to the right, looking more directly west.

Whiskey Island, Wolf Island, Thompson Island.

Town Island is just to the right of the aircraft’s nose in the picture above with just a little ice trapped around Galt Island. Roger’s Island and Treaty Island are open.

Let’s take a closer look at that area.

Treaty Island, Coney Island, Kenora.

We’ve climbed quite high now, so this shot shows the whole area from Galt Island at the lower left corner, past Treaty Island near the center, to downtown Kenora at the right. Devil’s Gap is clear, and the ice is all gone in  Rat Portage Bay, with Gun Club Island wide open.

Next, a different view of the Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake area.

Bald Indian Bay, Pine Portage Bay, Longbow Lake, Bigstone Bay.

This time we’re looking south east, so you can see all of Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake, and the far end of Bigstone Bay. The ice on Bigstone still looks pretty sturdy.

This last shot covers downtown again, but I’m including it because it looks west and offers a better view of Darlington Bay, and in the distance, Clearwater Bay and Shoal Lake.

Rat Portage Bay, Safety Bay, Darlington Bay, Winnipeg River.

We didn’t have time to fly further west, so Garrett snapped this shot from the pilot’s side while I took the controls for a moment. Darlington Bay is open. In the distance, Clearwater still has quite a bit of ice, and from the looks of it, Shoal Lake is still mostly frozen, at least the south part.

At the time I took these pictures, the pedestrian footbridge to Coney Island was still in place. You can just make it out behind the wing if you zoom in on this shot. But now that the ice is not an obstacle to boat traffic, the bridge will be coming out.

As we left town behind, we got rather too high to get good pictures, but we noticed that both Upper and Lower Black Sturgeon are open, while Silver Lake still has ice. Even further north, in my old float-plane stomping grounds, Maynard Lake and Oak Lake are about half open.

What does all this mean, in terms of how long until all the ice is gone on Lake of the Woods? With huge stretches of the lake open, the wind is able to really drive the ice and break it up.

I looked at some past years, and hunted for pictures with about the same amount of ice remaining. I would say we are now about ten days ahead of 2015 and 2016. That suggests that we have only a few days to go. Under ideal conditions, we could see the ice disappear this weekend. But. The weekend forecast is for single-digit highs, and overnight lows below freezing. Let’s just say within a week, and cross our fingers.

 

 

 

April 18, 2017: No Photos Yet

I didn’t fly on the Easter weekend or Monday, so I haven’t had a chance to take fresh aerial photographs.

Saturday was perfect ice-busting weather: sunny, warm, and very windy.

I made a road trip through the Whiteshell, and Falcon Lake is open. Other lakes between Kenora and the Manitoba border were changing fast. Granite Lake was open, Moth Lake was down to just floating ice pans, and what I could see of Caribou Lake was open. Clearwater Bay was not.

In Kenora, Rabbit Lake and Round Lake are open.

Easter Sunday was cold and snowy, so things slowed down a bit. Monday was also cool and cloudy. I talked to one of the local pilots who sends me pictures; he was planning a trip if the weather picked up by midday. It didn’t, and I don’t think he went. I went out for another drive.

At Pye’s Landing, Deception Bay is clear, but there was still ice on the main part of Clearwater Bay.

Cloudy conditions have blocked satellite cameras from getting a good look at Lake of the Woods since Saturday. At that time, it looked as if Lake of the Woods was approaching the halfway point, with large expanses of open water amounting to nearly fifty percent of the lake’s surface. That’s when windy conditions can play a big part, so I’m anxious to get out there and see what’s happened. Some of my Walsten Air friends will be flying this afternoon, but the forecast is for increasing cloud cover and a chance of showers, so I don’t know if they’ll get anything today.

April 13, 2017: Bill Scribilo

My own flight today came home too late for photography, but Bill Scribilo went flying over Lake of the Woods earlier in the day. His photographs can take us into the Easter weekend.

Here they are in the order Bill sent them to me. I’ve cropped off the sky to save time loading the page, as I do with my own pictures.

Yes, you can click on them to see the full resolution version, and it’s zoomable.

Looking west into Clearwater Bay.

Not a lot of melting going on in the Clearwater area. Kendall Inlet is darkening, though.

Castle Rock Island.

The shot above looks over Castle Rock Island (called Queer Island on my old chart) towards Middle Island, the Hades and Hay Island, with Bigstone Bay in the distance. Could be Bill got a better angle, but I think there’s a lot more water now.

Looking east from over the Elbow into Andrew Bay in the distance.

North from Roger’s Island into Devil’s Gap.

Roger’s Island is at the left in the shot above, and Galt Island is at the right. Water reaches almost all the way to town, at the top left, interrupted by just a little ice around Coney Island.

Looking south past Town Island toward Scotty Island.

Town Island on the left, Leisure Island on the right. Scotty Island in the distance.

It was great to get these shots from Bill today, as I don’t expect to fly over the Easter weekend. Thanks Bill!

We are now way ahead of where we were on this date last year. On April 13th of 2016, we were having a cold snap, and there were none of the large patches of open water you see today. Use the Archive of Previous Months and Years tool at the right to compare for yourself. (That’s assuming you’re viewing the full website, not an email or the mobile version.) We’re also doing much better than we were at this date in 2015. So while we’re nowhere near the pace for the earliest thaws, (in 2010, the lake was wide open now) we’re clearly running ahead of average.

April 12, 2017: Not Much Change

We’ve had sunny skies, but nighttime temperatures have been below freezing. That doesn’t stop the currents from eating away at the ice, but it slows things down enough that there hasn’t been a lot of change over the last couple of days.

Today’s satellite photo from the MODIS camera on the Terra satellite shows that Lake of the Woods is still close to 90% ice-covered. The biggest change seems to be between Big Narrows and the North West Angle.

Still, I was in the air today, and sunlight gives the best contrast for aerial photography, so here’s what we got.

Hay Island, Middle Island, Scotty Island.

I’ve tried to show the same areas that I photographed early this week, so that you can see what progress there is. The top photo shows slight enlargement of the open water encroaching on Hay Island and the Hades, and that patch of water at the far end of Scotty Island is new.

Don’t forget to click on these pictures to see a larger image that you can zoom in on to better see what’s going on in the distance. We didn’t have time to fly down for a closer look, but I think there’s a lot more open water down by Big Narrows. That’s near the upper edge of this photograph, above the center.

On to Keewatin Channel.

Town Island, Keewatin Channel, Devil’s Gap.

If you’re in crossing the Keewatin Bridge and heading through Norman, it looks like the whole lake must be open. But no. You could reach some parts of Town Island by boat now, for instance, but most of Town Island’s shores are still locked in ice. Over at Devils’ Gap, Roger’s Island is seeing more water along the shoreline, but only a little. In the middle distance at the right of this picture, you can see that Rat Portage Bay is slowly opening up on the town side of Devil’s Gap, but Gun Club Island is still surrounded by ice.

I’ll finish with a look at some of the little lakes in town.

Laurenson’s Lake, Round Lake, Rabbit Lake.

Laurenson’s Lake is starting to open up. The shoreline of Round Lake is letting go, and the remaining ice looks very weak. Rabbit Lake, which I was sure would be wide open early this week, has some open water at the west end, but ice is still holding on most of the lake.

 

April 10, 2017: More Progress

John and I arrived at Kenora from the east today. Dogtooth and the lakes in that area are still frozen, but the ice there is looking dark and weak. We did notice a few small patches of open water, including one near the south shore of Longbow Lake.

Here’s an overall view of the north part of Lake of the Woods taken when we were still quite high up.

Bigstone Bay, Hay Island.

It’s still almost all ice-covered, and at first I was disappointed that there hadn’t been more change.

But as we got closer, we started to notice the difference.

Hay Island, The Hades, Middle Island, Scotty Island.

Water pushing through the Barrier Islands now extends almost to Hay Island and patches are appearing in the Hades.

Click on these pictures to see a larger image that is zoomable to full resolution.

Closer to town, the waters of the Keewatin Channel are pushing ever closer to Scotty Island.

Bald Indian Bay.

In the photo above, Scotty Island is at the left edge. Water almost reaches the tip of the point by Scotty’s beach. Near the middle of the picture, water is opening up between Lunny’s Island and Bare Point.

This last shot was taken as we wheeled over Devil’s Gap.

Treaty Island, Devil’s Gap.

When the plane is banking, I usually try to hold the camera so the pictures have a level horizon, but this time I had to snap the shot before Galt Island went entirely out of sight beneath us. That water south of Roger’s Island is new. Closer to Kenora, which is at the top right corner of this photograph, the water of Devil’s Gap is close to meeting up with the water around Coney Island, with little more than the ice road separating the two.

That suggests that the  Coney Island pedestrian bridge will be coming out soon. The town removes the floating bridge when it is the only obstacle to boat traffic, that is to say, when the route is clear of ice.

I reviewed some Ice Patrol entries from recent years to see how this year compares. Both 2015 and 2016 were fairly typical years, with the Lake of the Woods totally thawed by the 3rd and 4th of May, respectively. As of now, 2017 is running a few days ahead, about equivalent to the middle of April in those years.

April 9, 2017: Rabbit Lake

I was out for my morning walk today, and stopped at the Gazebo on Rabbit Lake to look at the ice. Rabbit Lake is completely candled. Candling is when the solid structure of the ice starts to fracture into separate crystals.

Rabbit Lake.

Later, I stopped at a dock and plunged my hand into the water to pull out a fist sized cluster of those crystals. They’re only loosely stuck together, because water has penetrated the fissures between the crystals.

Candled ice: crystal cluster.

It was holding together, so I lifted it up and dropped it a few inches. SPLINK.

Candled ice: individual crystals.

This is the last stage of how lake ice melts, so it means the ice on Rabbit Lake is rotten and weak. Rabbit Lake will let go in the next few days, quite possibly this afternoon, but if not, early next week.

Today would be a great day to take your kids to the park by the rowing club, or Rabbit Lake beach, because the candled ice will now float up and down with every wave. If wind and waves get the crystals rubbing together and breaking apart, you will be able to hear the tinkling sounds.  If conditions are right, it will sound like a billion tiny chimes. Science!

Do not let your kids walk on the ice. It won’t support anything, and that water is cold.