July 19, 2021: US Border Update

The Canadian government has announced that starting on August 9th, fully vaccinated Americans will be allowed to visit Canada for non-essential reasons.

For more details, see this CBC News article.  It goes into what the rules are if you have kids under twelve, and so on.

Fully vaccinated means you must have had your final shot and waited the fourteen days for it to take full effect. You have to have a recent negative test for Covid, and there are other strings attached, too.

To prevent the line-ups at the border from getting unmanageable, you have to pre-register your vaccination status and some other details online, using ArriveCAN. It wouldn’t be practical for the immigration and customs agents to review people’s documents at the border, because there will be many different types of proof, depending on which state travellers were vaccinated in.

To learn about or download the ArriveCAN app, see here.

The current Covid situation in Kenora is quite good. We have only one active case of Coronavirus in Ontario’s Northwestern Health Unit, after several days in a row of none at all. The NWHU includes Kenora, Red Lake, Dryden, Sioux Lookout and so on. That one positive test is in Kenora.

In the meantime, we’re having a hot, dry summer. There are over a hundred forest fires burning in Northwestern Ontario. Kenora’s air quality looked like this today:

Approaching Lake of the Woods District Hospital on the Trans-Canada Highway.

Reported visibility at the Kenora Airport has been as low as 1/4 of a mile today. That’s poor enough to prevent aircraft from departing from the airport, even under Instrument Flight Rules.

Naturally, there is a ban on fires: we are in a Restricted Fire Zone, which means no outdoor fires, not even for cooking, and not even with a grate, fire pit or fireplace.

I also have personal news. After my temporary layoff dragged on for over a year, the company had to make it permanent in June. I am no longer employed as a pilot, and will probably not be returning to flying.

I hope to continue doing Ice Patrol with contributor photos, as I did while grounded by the pandemic for the last two springs.

May 26, 2021: 80 Days of April

I’ve been meaning to do a wrap-up post for this spring, as it was an odd one: although we had our first April-like temperatures way back on March 4, we’ve been in a kind of limbo ever since, with those same April conditions persisting well into May. Last week we finally got some warm temperatures, but this morning it dipped to freezing and snowed.

I’d like to show you the final graphs for the year.

First the simple Brick Graph.

The 2021 brick gets added to the April 21-25 stack.

You can click on these graphs to see them full-screen size.

Then the slightly more informative Pancake Graph.

This shows how agonizingly gradual this year’s thaw was compared to other years. It appears to be the slowest in my records by a wide margin.

This is partly a matter of definition, because this graph starts the clock when the mean daily temperature goes above freezing on a lasting basis. That began on March 4, but temperatures averaged out to just barely above freezing for weeks.

In a year with strong currents in the lake, ice might have continued to erode steadily despite wishy-washy temperatures, but lake levels were on the low side, and the Lake of the Woods Control Board restricted flow through the Norman Dam  to keep them from dropping further. That meant less current, so the channels and narrows that usually open up early kept their ice for quite a long time.

Sean Cockrem sent me an enhanced version of his Cumulative Temperature Graph, which I cheerfully refer to as the Shark Fin Graph.

Sean has enlarged this graph so that you can see more detail. It’s well worth clicking on it to zoom in.

To recap: long winters are wide. Cold winters are deep. Sean uses that to determine whether the ice is likely to be thick or thin, and then estimates how much heat will be needed to melt it all. He assigns a point value to that, and uses the weather forecast to try and guess when that score might be reached.

But just in case you’re feeling lazy, let me show you a close-up of the last two years:


The first thing I notice when I compare the two winters on this section is that last winter was both shorter and milder than the one before. An interesting detail is the difference in the tiny sections between the blue X and the red dot. This represents the entire thaw from inflection point to ice-free. In the spring of 2020, we had a short steep path from one to the other. Once it (belatedly) started to warm up, it got rapidly warmer, and the lake ice was gone in about three weeks. This year was very different. From that early start on March 4th, the line staggers along—dipping below freezing at first—for over seven weeks before all the ice is finally gone.

That’s it for this year.  Here’s hoping the weather picks up and the pandemic dies down.

April 24, 2021: Not Satellite Saturday.

I’ve been posting Satellite pictures all week, and there aren’t any new ones because it was cloudy. Still, yesterday’s weather wasn’t as bad as it might have been. I saw only a little snow falling, and it did not stick.

The weather was good enough for Justin Martin to go flying in the afternoon, and he tracked down some tiny fragments of ice that made it through Thursday night and Friday morning.

You can click on these pictures to see the large versions.

The Manitou.

Naturally, the ice is in the same area as before, it’s only drifted a little. In the Manitou, this remnant of an ice road has stuck itself to the north shore of Mather Island. The photo looks north east across the Slate Islands, with Scotty Island and Middle Island on the right in the middle distance. Near the horizon on the left, it’s snowing.

South of the Barrier Islands.

As to the ice pans that were south of the Barrier Islands, just two scraps lasted until Friday.

None of this ice is inconveniencing anyone. It’s really just of technical interest to ice nerds like me who want to know exactly what day the ice was gone. For my purposes, I’m going to record today as the day Lake of the Woods was completely clear of ice. I’m not sure about Shoal Lake; if there’s any ice there, it’s probably too inconspicuous to see from a distance.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment to get a vaccine.


April 23, 2021: Last Ice

This is yesterday afternoon’s false-colour image from NASA’s Aqua satellite.

If you click on this image, you’ll see a version with landmark tags.

Aqua satellite’s MODIS image from April 22, 2021, in false colour.

There’s no longer any ice visible anywhere, not even on Shoal Lake or Big Sand Lake. Not from space, anyway.

Justin Martin took these pictures at sunset yesterday. They show how much the ice degraded during Thursday’s warmth. There are just two patches of ice remaining on the Manitou.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger, zoomable version.

The Manitou, The Slate Islands and Shammis Island.

This is from over the Manitou, looking south west at Shammis Island. In the foreground are the trailing end of the Slate Island chain, and at the right edge of the frame are the larger islands in the group: Charlie Island, St. George Island and Palisade Island. This ice is disintegrating fast.

Slate Island, The Elbow.

Looking more directly south at the Elbow from over Scotty Island, there’s a second patch of ice near Slate Island. It’s barely holding together.

Justin flew over the Barrier Islands to take this picture.

Oliver Island, Crescent Island.

From over Oliver Island, which was visible in the distance in the previous photo, here’s what’s left of the ice south of the Barrier Islands.  The ice here looks as weak as wet tissue paper.

Justin didn’t expect any of this ice to last the night, and I agree with him. Temperatures stayed well above freezing until around 3:00am last night, and I would guess that this ice is all gone by now.

It might take a day or two to confirm this. Today’s forecast is for wet snow, so it won’t be good flying  or boating weather, and the satellites won’t be able to see anything either.

April 22, 2021: Even Less Ice

This morning’s satellite shot is a little blurry, but you can still make out some ice on Shoal Lake.

Click on this to see a version with landmarks tagged.

Terra satellite’s MODIS image for April 22, 2021, in false colour.

Justin Martin sent me another batch of aerial photos today.

You can click on these to see a larger version with more detail.

Scotty Island.

This is Scotty Island as seen from the Manitou, looking north east towards town. Minor patches of ice at the lower left, by Slate Island, and at the right side by Strawberry Island.

Cat Island. Strawberry Island.

The view west from over Middle Island, which is partially visible at the bottom of the frame. The double patch of ice by Strawberry Island is the same one as in the previous photo, but with better lighting.

Next we’ll take a closer look at those ice pans in the distance.

The Manitou.

Further westward, this is the view down the Manitou, with the Slate Islands* in the middle and Whiskey Island to their right. At the bottom of the frame is the south west tip of Scotty. Still isolated patches of ice here, too.

*Slate Island (singular) is near Scotty Island. The Slate Islands (plural, a chain) are just slightly further west in the middle of the Manitou.

There are also two Galt Islands. One is near Devil’s Gap on Lake of the Woods, and the other is on Shoal Lake, near Martinique Island, which is quite separate from the similarly named island in the Caribbean.

Thompson Island, Poplar Bay, The Tangle.

Looking north, with Keewatin visible in the distance if you zoom in. That patch by Hough’s Island is about as weak as a sheet of ice can get and still hold together.

Quarry Island, Queen Bee Island, Sultana Island.

Here we’re looking east into Bald Indian Bay at the left, and Pine Portage Bay at the right. That’s Heaps Point at the bottom of the picture. A lonely and desperate pan of ice clings to Kipling Island. It’s doomed.

Now down to the Barrier Islands.

The Elbow.

Looking south over the Elbow, so we have Allie Island at the left and Shammis Island at the right. Oliver Island is just left of center. It looks like most of the pans in this area have shrunk, but survived another day.

We’ve done better than expected today, reaching 16°C this afternoon.  Let’s hope we can beat the odds tomorrow, too, because there’s talk of snow during the day and an overnight low of -5° Friday night.







April 22, 2021: Scattered Pans

There’s still a little ice, but it won’t impede boaters much.

I’ll start with a satellite image from yesterday morning.

If you click on this image, you’ll see landmarks tagged.

Terra satellite’s MODIS image for April 21, 2021, in false colour.

It looks as if the south end of the lake is completely clear now, but there’s still significant ice on Shoal Lake, and some small patches around the Manitou and the Barrier Islands.

Now fast forward to yesterday evening, when Justin Martin snapped a few shots at sunset.

You can click on these pictures to see a full-size version.

Downtown Kenora, Devil’s Gap.

The area around Kenora is clear. Even Gun Club Island, at the right edge of the frame, and Rogers Island, near the center, which are late to thaw because of ice roads, are open.

The Manitou.

Out on the Manitou, only scattered pans remain. This shot looks south east from over Welcome Channel, with Thompson Island and Wolf Island in the foreground. Whiskey Island is at the right edge, and Scotty Island is at the left. Right in the middle of the picture, glowing in the sunlight, is Manitou Island. As you can see, there are some ice pans out there, but it looks as if you could simply go around them if they were in your way.

The Barrier Islands.

Meanwhile, the ice by the Barrier Islands is also disintegrating. This shot looks south east with Shammis Island in the center and Mather Island to the left. Beyond that are Allie Island and the Elbow. There are patches of ice both north (lower left corner) and south (right of center) of Shammis, but they don’t amount to much.


Shoal Lake.

Here, we’re looking south west down Shoal Lake with Helldiver Bay in the foreground, and Martinique and Galt Islands near the middle of the shot. There’s still some pretty extensive ice on Shoal, and it’s common for Shoal Lake to clear a few days later than Lake of the Woods.

Today’s forecast is for sunny skies, south breezes, and a high of about 13°C. I think that’ll just about finish off the ice on Lake of the Woods. I kind of hope so, because tonight the temperatures are expected to drop to about 1°C, and then stay there all day Friday. With snow, probably.

I’m going to put my patio furniture out on the deck today, but I’ll be bringing the cushions in this evening.

April 20, 2021: Ice Pans

Despite some cold days, the ice is breaking up.

A couple of satellite pictures to show the progress.

This is from Saturday:

April 17, 2021.

And this is from Monday:

April 19, 2021.

Even from space, you can see that the ice sheets are breaking apart.

Let’s take a closer look, from one of the MAG Canada Cessna 337 training flights yesterday. Pictures courtesy of Justin Martin.

You can click on these to see a full-size version.

The Manitou.

Looking west down the Manitou. Scotty Island is at the lower left, by the aircraft’s nose. The largest sheet of ice here is between Scotty and Whiskey Island. Right in the middle of the ice, Lemon Island and Manitou Island have clear patches to their south, like shadows. I think that’s from the ice being driven by a north wind.

Bigstone Bay.

The mouth of Bigstone Bay has been blocked until recently. Below the Cessna’s wingtip, you can find Heenan Point stretching out towards Needle Point near the middle of the picture. The two points were acting as kind of a choke point for the ice sheet, but it has cleared. At the right side are the Hades, and the ice pan in the foreground is just off Middle Island’s Heaps Point. The ice road is cracking up like a giant bar code.

Let’s take a look at things south of the Barrier Islands.

Whiteout Island.

Looking north towards the Barrier Islands. My chart doesn’t give a name to the chain of three islands in the middle of this picture, but the one to the right of them is Whiteout Island. As we saw in the satellite images, the big sheet of ice is fragmenting.

Barrier Islands: Allie and East Allie Islands.

Justin’s next shot takes us just a little further north to better see the Barrier Islands. Allie Island and East Allie Island stretch across the middle of the frame here, with the Devil’s Elbow left of center.

Big Narrows Island.

This is about as far down the lake as Justin got. We’re looking west over Big Narrows Island towards a sunlit sheet of ice on Shoal Lake in the distance.

Justin has more flights this week, so I hope we can all see the last ice go. Thanks Justin!


April 19, 2021: Compared to Last Year

We’re almost there. We’re stuck with a couple more days of shivery weather, but even if the remnants of ice hold out through those, Thursday’s warmth—currently expected to reach 14°C—will wipe them out. Of course, even while it’s cold, wind and wave action are working to destroy ice every hour.

In preparation for today’s radio chat with Ken O’Neil at Q-104, I was updating my graphs, and I noticed something.

Let’s say the ice holds out another day or two. The Brick Graph will look like this.

Brick Graph.

For this graph, I put the date the lake is 100% clear of ice into a five-day period (because sometimes I’m not sure of the exact date). So you can see we had a pretty early thaw this year, probably the third earliest of this century.

The Pancake Graph puts a slightly different spin on it.

You can click on this graph to enlarge it.

Pancake Graph.

This graph, more formally called the Inflection to Thaw Calendar, gives each year a bar that starts on the date of the Inflection Point* and ends when the lake is ice free. Two things jump out at me here:

First, despite starting early, this is the slowest thaw on the chart. We hit consistently above freezing temperatures early, but they were barely above freezing. As far as defining it by air temperature is concerned, the thaw looks set to drag on to about 48 days.

Second, look at last year’s bar: the thaw didn’t start until now!**

*The Inflection Point is when the Mean Daily Temperature rose above freezing for keeps.

**In terms of air temperature, anyway. On this graph, the 2020 thaw was fast, at 18 days. It does not take into account that water currents would have been thinning the ice from below while the air was still cold.

“Huh,” I said. “Do I have any photographs from late April last year in the archives?”

Do I! Check this out:

Lake of the Woods on April 18, 2020.

This photo was sent to me by Bruce White, who works (or worked, perhaps, as the air transport industry is in terrible shape right now) for Air Canada, as his flight passed along the south shore of Lake of the Woods. It looks north, with Big Island at the bottom of the frame, and the Alneau Peninsula prominent in the middle. This time last year, the whole lake was frozen over.

Other photos taken at this time last year show the ice from lower altitudes, and it looks hard and white, with little snow cover. You can use the Archive Tool (located on this web page’s right hand sidebar) to visit the Ice Patrol posts from April of 2020, or any other spring month in recent years.

Also, you might recall that in 2014, the year Ice Patrol debuted as a fully fledged web site*, there was real concern that the lake might not be open for the May long weekend. We made it, but barely.

*Ice Patrol began in the nineties, as verbal reports to friends, and grew to an informal email thing before launching as a WordPress blog in 2014.

By the way, on this site, “ice free” means it’s all gone. 100%. Not enough ice left to make a Margarita! Why? Because although many lake dwellers can reach their camps when the lake is mostly open, not all can. In fact, this whole project started because I had friends who bought a camp by an ice road, and were frustrated that they couldn’t get there by boat when most other cottagers were happily cleaning up the mouse poop and putting out the patio furniture.

Okay, maybe happily isn’t the right word, but hey, we all have PPE now! It would be wise to wear your mask and gloves while cleaning your kitchen counters, and it is especially important if your property is gifted with raccoon droppings, because they pose a significant health hazard.

So, aside from the whole miserable Covid thing, we’re having a good spring. I have some friends flying this week, so I hope to get pictures of the last ice in the next few days, weather permitting.

April 18, 2021: Remaining Ice

I don’t think anyone will be taking new aerial photographs today; the visibility is down to about a kilometer in snow.

But Shaun Clifford did send me this pair of pictures, taken 24 hours apart:



So yeah, spring weather, yay.

It’s a good thing Kelly Belair went flying yesterday with his partner Ashley Kolisnik to see how much ice is left.

You can click on these images to see larger, full screen versions.

12 Mile Portage.

12 Mile Portage cuts across a narrow part of Shammis Island, and is a regular route for an ice road. This view looks north and the ice on the north side of the Barrier Islands is pretty rotten.

Scotty Island.

This shot looks north east from over Scotty Island. Nanton Island, Bell’s Island and Lunny Island are at the left edge of the frame. Part of Middle Island is at the right, including Heaps Point. You can see how the remnants of the ice roads are helping to hold the weak ice together.

Andrew Bay.

Gaberty Island and Slate Island are near the middle of this picture that looks east into Andrew Bay. Moore Bay is in the distance to the left of center, and shining in the upper left corner is the south east end of Bigstone Bay.

You may have realized that the emphasis at Ice Patrol has shifted from photographing the water to photographing the ice. This happens naturally, as the lake goes from almost entirely frozen over, to nearly open. So yes, the lake is down to less than 10% ice covered. Pretty much everything you don’t see in these pictures is ice-free.

There is still significant ice in the Manitou, and on Shoal Lake. Kelly reports that most small lakes in the Kenora area are clear.

Kelly’s assessment is that this ice will all be gone in a couple of days, which would put us right on Sean Cockrem’s estimate of ice free on April 20th. He said that on the 24th of March, by the way.

Thursday will be warm, with temperatures rising into the double digits, so I think that’s the longest any remnants of ice could last. But Monday and Tuesday are barely expected to top freezing, so I think some ice could hold on that long, and perhaps into Wednesday, when it’s starting to turn only a little warmer.

Oh, I almost forgot: the Coney Island footbridge is scheduled to come out tomorrow, weather permitting, or later next week if Monday’s weather is unsuitable. That will open up the waterways for boats from Kenora to head out onto the lake through Devil’s Gap.

April 17, 2021: Satellite Saturday / Travel Restrictions

Warm temperatures and sunny skies meant both Aqua and Terra satellites were able to get MODIS images of Lake of the Woods today.

Here’s what Terra saw this morning.

You can click on this image to see a version with tags for landmarks.

Terra satellite’s MODIS image for April 17, 2021, in false colour.

Looks like we’re down to about 10% ice cover now, but most of what remains is located where it still prevents boaters from reaching popular areas.

Here’s how it looked to Aqua in the afternoon, with less cloud cover.

Aqua satellite’s MODIS image for April 17, 2021, in false colour.

There are visible differences. For starters, the ice clinging to the lake’s south shore is markedly reduced. Perhaps more subtle, the northern ice is also shrinking by the hour. Take a close look at the ice sheet in Bigstone Bay north of Hay Island. It’s faded a lot today. I’d say the ice on Shoal Lake has thinned, too, but only a little.

And just in case you find the false colour version hard to assess, here’s the same image in true colour. [and with no infrared component]

Aqua satellite’s MODIS image for April 17, 2021, in true colour.

While Bigstone Bay is undergoing rapid change, things seem more stable on the Manitou, at least as seen from space.

Devon Ostir sent me a picture from his Dock Cam on Hare Island, looking out at the receding ice on the Manitou.

View south from Hare Island.

He says there’s been a big change in the last day or two. Thanks Devon.

Change of subject.

By now you’ve probably heard that Ontario is closing its borders with Manitoba and Quebec for all but essential travel, starting tomorrow. Here’s a link to a CBC News story that covers Ontario’s new restrictions in general, including a link to the Order in Council that pertains to travel from Manitoba and Quebec.

And here’s the official wording of Section 2 of the Order in Council.

Certain travel into Ontario from Manitoba and Quebec prohibited
No person shall travel into Ontario from Manitoba or Quebec unless,
(a) the person’s principal residence is in Ontario;
(b) the person is moving to Ontario in order to make their principal residence in Ontario;
(c) the person is travelling through Ontario without unnecessary stops to reach their principal residence in another jurisdiction;
(d) the person is travelling into or through Ontario by means of an international or interprovincial bus, train, ferry, or flight;
(e) the person is travelling to perform work in Ontario;
(f) the person is transporting goods into or through Ontario as part of the operation of a business that involves the transportation of goods;
(g) the person’s health makes it necessary to travel into Ontario to obtain health care or social services;
(h) the person is travelling in a vehicle that is transporting or that will transport a person in Ontario to or from a hospital or health care facility in Manitoba or Quebec;
(i) the person is being transported from a hospital or health care facility in Manitoba or Quebec, whether by ambulance or by any other means;
(j) the person is,
(i) in the care of a children’s aid society in Ontario pursuant to a court order or a written agreement,
(ii) in the care of a person subject to the supervision of a children’s aid society in Ontario pursuant to a court order or a written agreement, or
(iii) at least 16 years old and no more than 21 years old and receiving care, services or support pursuant to an agreement with a children’s aid society in Ontario;
(k) the person must enter Ontario to exercise custody or access rights contained in an agreement;
(l) the person must enter Ontario to comply with an order contained in a decision or judgment of a court or tribunal, or as otherwise required by law;
(m) the person is travelling into Ontario for the purpose of exercising an Aboriginal or treaty right as recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982;
(n) the person is travelling into Ontario to respond to a critical incident, including travel for the purpose of,
(i) preventing injury or illness to persons,
(ii) preventing damage to property, or
(iii) performing a necessary action to respond to the critical incident; or
(o) the travel is necessary for a humanitarian or compassionate reason, such as,
(i) providing care or services to a person who requires them due to their state of health,
(ii) attending on a person who is dying, or
(iii) attending a funeral.

From the point of view of a cottage owner, that’s very restrictive. I’ve only copied out Section 2 here, but you can use the link to the Order in Council above to read the PDF in its entirety. Section 1 is about who can police the act, and Section 3 is about the obligations of people who are stopped under its provisions.