April 19, 2019: High Altitude

I received some pictures from airline pilots today, so I thought I’d feature the high altitude viewpoint in this post.

I’ll start with a picture I took yesterday, on descent from 26,000 feet.This image looks south. In the foreground are, from left to right, Upper Black Sturgeon, Lower Black Sturgeon and the Winnipeg River. Beyond that, the image spans almost all of Lake of the Woods, and is roughly centred on Keewatin. Shoal Lake is at the right side of the frame. Big Traverse and the US shoreline are almost on the horizon.

Now let’s look at those contributions from airline pilots. Luke Burak, who flies for WestJet, took this beautiful picture of the northern portion of Lake of the Woods this morning from about thirty miles south of Kenora and an altitude of 34,000 feet.I took the liberty of cropping this picture to eliminate a lot of sky from the top. This saves on upload time (and “cloud” storage. Snort. Sorry.) The bottom edge of this picture is the Alneau Peninsula, and there’s a great view of the open water at Big Narrows and Tranquil Channel at the left. Slightly above the centre are the Barrier Islands, and if you click to zoom in, you can see the water at The Elbow.

Lastly, a photo of Shoal Lake from airline pilot and regular contributor Matthew Render, who snapped this from the cockpit of an Airbus A320.We’re back to looking south for this one. The distinctive pair of islands near the middle are Stevens Island and Dominic Island. Probably of more interest to cottagers are Clytie Bay and Bag Bay at the left edge. At the right edge is Cash Island, and I think that’s part of Crowduck Lake in the foreground.

There’s no overlooking the fact that the lakes are almost entirely frozen, but I think we’ve turned the corner.

Both of these gentlemen have offered to take more pictures in the coming weeks, but of course the skies won’t always be clear enough for them to help.

Thanks, Luke. Thanks, Matthew.

April 18, 2019: Progress

We’ve finally had some warm weather: temperatures have moved into double digits, with a forecast of more to come, offering hope of a string of days with above normal highs. It’s starting to make a difference.

I had an afternoon trip today that gave me the opportunity to take pictures both when I departed and when I returned. I’ve picked the best two of each.

Click on any of these pictures to see a larger, zoomable version.

I haven’t made it out to the Barrier Islands lately, so that was on my wish list.Looking south with the Big Traverse on the horizon. That blocky looking “island” at the left is actually the western end of the Eastern Peninsula. From there, track west across the picture to see East Allie Island, Allie Island, then the open water at The Elbow, then Mather Island and Shammis Island. I’m pretty sure that water at the Elbow is more extensive than last time I looked.

We carried on south for a minute longer to get a better look at Big Narrows and we got a bonus: two new patches of water! At the left side of this picture there’s water between Shammis Island and Crow Rock Island now.  Closer to the middle of the picture the current is opening things up in Crow Rock Channel, too. Further off to the south west, water continues to expand at Big Narrows.

Those were the highlights of the outbound leg of my trip.

On the way home, I was able to swing out towards Scotty Island to check on developments there. We’re looking more or less east now. At the left is The Tangle, where water’s been opening up the path into Keewatin Channel. The ice road through Holmstrom’s Marsh is clearly visible to the left of Thomson Island. There’s new water showing at the centre of the picture near Anchor Island. Scotty Island is just right of that.

I glimpsed something behind Scotty Island that made me want a better look.Scotty Island’s distinctive crescent-shaped beach is near the left edge of the frame, and yes, in the middle of this picture there’s water between Strawberry Island and Middle Island now. There’s also a tiny bit between Strawberry and Scotty. And if you zoom in to look at things further away, there’s water appearing between Middle Island and Hay Island now, in The Hades.

In summary, warmer weather has enabled water to break through in multiple areas. I also think the ice is starting to look greyer overall, although it’s hard to compare pictures taken at different times of day with different amounts of sunlight.

The weather forecast is looking more promising lately. A week or so ago, we were facing a gloomy outlook that suggested below normal temperatures would persist into May, but now the latest forecasts are calling for double-digit temperatures for the Easter Weekend and through next week. We might even manage a thundershower this Saturday. Rain would be good.

Over the weekend, I’ll probably dig through the archives to see how our recent progress looks in comparison to past years, but I won’t be flying again until Monday. If you’re interested, I’ll be talking to Ken O’Neil at Q-104 on Monday morning.

Have a happy Easter weekend. Safe travels.


April 17, 2019: Long Bay

We came home from around Sioux Narrows this evening, so I was able to get some pictures around Whitefish Bay.

But first, an update on The Tangle, Town Island and Scotty Island from this morning.I photographed this area just yesterday, but this picture shows things from a different angle.  Town Island is near the middle, The Tangle leads into Keewatin Channel at the right, and Middle Island and Scotty Island are at the left. The Barrier Islands stretch right across the frame in the distance, and if you zoom in, you can see the water at The Elbow.

You can click on these pictures to see them full-screen, and you can click again to zoom those images to the full resolution.

Now let’s jump to this evening and the Sioux Narrows area.Berry Lake is near the windshield wiper at the lower left corner. You’re looking roughly west with Long Bay stretching at an angle from the left edge.

There’s been a little open water at Whitefish Narrows for a while now, so I thought we should take a closer look.Whitefish Narrows is near the centre of this picture, but there’s more than one place where the sun glinted off water.

Here’s a look at Yellow Girl Bay. Open water is spreading through the chain of islands at the mouth of Yellow Girl Bay, at the left of this picture. Witch Bay reaches to the right edge of the frame, and beyond it is Bigstone Bay.

As you can see, almost everything remains frozen, but small patches of water are opening up where the currents are strong. That’s all for tonight.

April 16, 2019: Aerial Photographs

Yesterday’s post with Sean’s graphs has been updated, to show a thaw index closer to last year’s actual result instead of last year’s forecast. Also the graphs have titles now. You may need to hit refresh to see the changes.

Now six pictures from around 10:00 this morning.

I’ll start with the Winnipeg River, because we were arriving from the north.This is looking west at the Big Straight, with Minaki at the right hand edge of the picture. Although the river has quite a lot of open water, the lakes are a different story.

You can click on any of these pictures to see them full-screen, and click on that larger image to zoom to the full resolution.

A little closer to town, around Dufresne Island, facing south west.Downtown Kenora is at the left, Keewatin is above the centre of the frame, with Darlington Bay extending to the right.

Here’s a nice shot of the whole Kenora harbourfront.Kenora Bay and the LOW hospital campus are at the lower left. Keewatin is at the right. If you drive over the Keewatin Bridge, you see a lot of open water, but there’s  ice out by Yacht Club Island. Coney Island is still surrounded by ice and Rat Portage Bay is pretty solid.

This next picture shows the condition of the lake as a whole: white ice as far as the eye can see.Zoom in to look at the open water in The Tangle. Left of centre, you can see the ice does look a little discoloured out between Town Island and Scotty Island now.

Lastly, a look at Pine Portage Bay, Long Point and Longbow Lake.Sorry, but there’s no sign of any melting in this area.

I talked to someone that went ice fishing in the Storm Bay last weekend. They said there was still three feet of solid ice, with only an inch or two of softer refrozen slush on top.

This is why I’ve been pointing my camera at the river and harbourfront; there’s not much going on anywhere else. When I get a chance, I’ll try to swing by Sioux Narrows and the Barrier Islands because satellite imagery suggests there’s some water showing there, but that’s a fairly significant detour, so I’m saving that for when there’s more to see.

Satellite images were good today, especially the ones from Terra. Links updated.

April 15, 2019: Sean’s Analysis

I didn’t do a Signs of Spring post yesterday, but if you’re interested, snow is retreating wherever the sun shines, but lingering in shadowy places. I’ve seen a pair of Mallards, my first ducks of the year. Also a pigeon and a pair of Whisky Jacks. I heard a second-hand report (hearsay!) of a robin. Cyclists are emerging from their winter dens.

And now onto the main topic.

Contributor Sean C. is finally confident that we’ve reached the inflection point, the date when our daily mean temperature rises above freezing on a lasting basis. He figures this took place on Saturday, April 13th.

That means that from now on, the ice will be melting steadily.

Here’s the first of his graphs, depicting the severity of the winter.

Each of the downward spikes represents a winter, ending on the date of the inflection point. The depth of the spike represents the severity of the winter, and the width of the spike represents the duration of the ice-making period. In a nutshell, the winter that just ended was not the worst, but it was a very close match for the previous winter, which was pretty bad.

You can click on these graphs to see them full-screen and a bit bigger.

Here’s Sean’s graph comparing the way some recent winters unfolded.

2019 Freezing Index

In this figure, each winter gets a line in a different colour, and tracks across the calendar until it ends on the inflection date. A short shallow line, like 2012’s medium blue one at the top, represents a mild winter that started to thaw early. The awful winter of 2014 (which was also the deepest downward spike on the first graph) is the grey line that slopes down and down, making ice until mid April. Above that are two lines that track together at the end. The dark blue one is from a year ago, and the dark red one is this year. These years look as closely matched on this graph as they do on the first.

Okay. We’ve established that it was a crummy winter that dragged on into the middle of April. Now what?

Well, now Sean uses some math to figure out how much heat we’ll need to melt the ice formed over such a winter. He works out a thaw index based on the severity of the winter. The index lets him make predictions based on the long-term forecast, and it works like this: If a day has a mean temperature of 5ºC, we add five points to the total. If a day has a mean temperature of 7º, we add seven, and so on*. Then he works out how many of those points we’re likely to need to thaw this winter’s ice.

2019 Preliminary Forecast

Sean’s first version of this graph used the same thawing index he forecast last year: 200. However, when I asked Sean if it might be better to use the actual index of 242 that came to pass, he reconsidered, and issued a new version of the graph using an index of 240.

The amended graph now replaces the earlier version on this post. The higher index adds another day to the estimated time until we’re ice-free.

On this graph, the red line represents a really warm spring (2007) that hit 200 points in early May and the green line depicts a cold spring (2004) that took much longer. Please note: this graph isn’t about the thaw in those years, it’s just about how rapidly we accumulated enough warm weather. The very short blue line hiding in the lower left corner is 2019, with data points marked by blue dots to show the actual daily mean temperature achieved. The yellow line is what the weather forecast says we’re likely to get. If the forecast is accurate, the blue line will grow along the yellow path, and Sean will extend the yellow line as new forecasts come into effect. (There are longer forecasts, but plotting them day by day at this point would be wishful thinking)

The horizontal dotted red line indicates the target thaw index of 240 estimated for this year, while the vertical dotted red line marks the date we might reach it, based on the trend in the longer-term forecasts.

*A sort of fun thing we learned about daily mean temperatures: you might suppose that if the daytime high was 10ºC, and the overnight low was 0ºC, then the mean daily temperature would be 5ºC. That turns out to be not quite right. Actually, such a day is likely to produce a mean temperature closer to 6ºC. We seem to spend more hours near the high than the low. Perhaps this is due to spring’s long days and short nights.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll have noticed that the predicted date for reaching the target of 240 points is May 87th. May 18th is bad. It’s even worse than last year, mainly because the temperatures forecast for the next weeks are not high.

Still, there are other factors to consider.

The index itself is not precise; it’s an educated guess based on turning a limited set of  past data into a mathematical formula.

A more positive influence might be ice quality. All that snow this winter made for some poor ice. If it’s weaker and softer, it should melt faster.

Then there are the usual wild cards: rain, wind and sunshine.

In summary, this year looks a lot like last year. Rosy forecasts haven’t panned out, and a normal ice-free date in early May looks unlikely.

Plan on the middle of May and cross your fingers.



April 13, 2019: Satellite Saturday

On Friday we came home during a spell of poor weather, and although we caught glimpses of the lake between the clouds and flurries, trying to take photographs would have been pointless.

But today the weather cleared right up in time for the Aqua and Terra satellites to get fairly good pictures.

The left half of the picture is blurred, (different satellite pass, I’m guessing) but still good enough to see the large features. I’ve circled three of interest:

The large red ellipse at the top includes not only the southern portions of the Winnipeg River, but also, at the bottom of the ring, a recently enlarged area of water around Channel Island or perhaps The Tangle.

The middle ring is Big Narrows, and it looks like there may have been some expansion of the open water there.

The ring at the bottom shows water pushing into Lake of the Woods from the mouth of the Rainy River. That’s new. It first showed up a few days ago.

Here’s a photograph from a week ago, for comparison.

There’s more good news. We might finally have reached the point where we spend more time above freezing than below. The next few days look promising, with forecast highs of 5º to 8ºC and overnight lows of 0º to -3ºC.

For almost a month now, weather forecasts have been saying warmer weather is just a week away. It still says that, and to be clear, they’re not talking about above normal temperatures. But it looks as if we might see a gradual improvement towards seasonal norms. That would be daytime highs of 10ºC, and overnight lows of about -1ºC. Let’s hope it doesn’t slip away this time.

April 11, 2019: Little Change

It was gusty and bumpy today at low altitudes today, so I took one quick picture from fairly high up before descending into the turbulence to land.

Still, it’s a useful picture, taken from 6500 feet above sea level, (or about a mile above the lake) because it shows all the area that was hard to photograph on Tuesday, when we had to fly low.

Click on the picture to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

The photograph looks north west, with Treaty Island near the middle of the frame. Gun Club Island is at the precise centre. There might be a little more water showing at the left edge, where Keewatin Channel turns into The Tangle. Water on Safety Bay seems to be creeping out to Yacht Club Island. Devil’s Gap looks about the same, especially at the Rat Portage Bay end.

There hasn’t been much progress lately. Temperatures have been low, and although rain did remove a layer of snow cover, it soon snowed again and covered everything up.

The only places the ice is yielding is where the current is strong. The rest of the lake—and all the other lakes in the area—are still ice covered. I’ll range further when conditions improve and there’s something to show for it.

In the meantime, the forecast is for snow tonight. The Weather Network says only a centimetre or so, while Accuweather says six to twelve centimetres. Environment Canada splits the difference, calling for two to four. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.