March 25, 2019: Winnipeg River

If you’re a regular here, you know that I take my pictures where the ice is melting. There’s no point taking pictures far out on the lake, it’s all unbroken ice at present. Where the water is opening up right now is the Winnipeg River and it’s headwaters near downtown Kenora.

So let’s take a little cruise from Minaki to Kenora.

Remember, you can click on any of these pictures to see them full-screen, and click on that larger version to zoom them to full resolution.

This first picture shows the south end of Sand Lake, with Minaki above and left of center. The lake behind it that looks like a fried egg is Gun Lake. Anyway, there’s some slush visible, but not much in the way of water.

Next up, the Big Straight.

Mostly slushy conditions in the Big Straight, a few modest patches of water.

Then The Dalles.

The Dalles is always early to open up. Like Safety Bay in Kenora, it has a strong current. These two sites are where water bomber pilots come to do their spring training.

Approaching town.

Still looking south as we approach Dufresne Island.

Then the area around the Kenora Bypass.

Quite a lot of open water in this area.


Keewatin’s iconic bridge and the water reaching out from Safety Bay towards the Yacht Club. It’s not hooked up to the water in Keewatin Channel yet, but that will be a milestone in the next week or so.

A quick shot out the side window (looking west) to take in Darlington Bay.

That big building near the bottom of the picture is the Keewatin Rec Center.

A closer look at the Keewatin Channel.

Not much change to the amount of open water, but I think the slush zone has expanded.

Devil’s Gap.

This looks east over Golf Course Bay. You can see the Kenora airport at the upper left corner because we’re lining up to land. I took this one to show that open water is expanding south (upcurrent) from Devil’s Gap past Treaty Point.

I’ve updated the satellite picture links. On today’s False Colour image from the Aqua satellite, you can see some stretches of open water on the Winnipeg River. It shows as black against the bright blue ice, and it corresponds well to what I saw from the plane today. There are patches of water as far north as Whitedog.

My next flight should be on Wednesday, a day that’s forecast (for now, anyway) to be warm with a chance of showers. Rain showers don’t make for good photography, but they’re great for removing snow cover. We’ll see.



March 24, 2019: Signs of Spring Sunday

Every year I notice little milestones as the seasons change, and then I forget to mention most of them. I thought I’d try to keep them more in mind this year.

I saw my first two Canada Geese in Winnipeg yesterday, so it looks as if the waterfowl are on the move. Winnipeg is right in the middle of the Central Canada Flyway, a major route for migrating ducks and geese.

In the afternoon, I noticed a small flock of gulls on the ice of Kenora Bay. There’s a local saying that we get three snowfalls after the seagulls return. This comes true fairly often if you are flexible about how many seagulls and how much snow actually counts. I just checked to see what kind of gulls we have here and found a cool bird website that lists Kenora’s bird species. Apparently, we have up to nine kinds of gull here, but from the harbourfront I was too far away to even guess.

I have seen several signs of deer kills lately. I assume this is wolves, taking advantage of the hard icy crust on top of the snow to outrun deer.

Today, soil and grass are beginning to show on sunny slopes on the Tunnel Island trails, and the hard crust that formed on the snow last week has begun to weaken as the snow crumbles to the texture of brown sugar.

There’s less ice on the riverbanks each day.

In town, snowbanks are shrinking dramatically, and some of the streets that had the worst icy ruts are now bare.

In other news, I’ll be on the air on CBC tomorrow morning, doing a live interview with Jeff Walters. We’ll be taking about the Ice Patrol: how it got started and how it’s changed over the years. In Kenora, that’ll be on 98.7 FM around 7:15 Central Daylight Time. Dryden would be 100.9 at the same time. Thunder Bay’s frequency is 88.3 and it will be 8:15 Eastern Daylight Time there.

After that, I’m going flying, and I hope to take my first photo run down the Winnipeg River from Minaki to Kenora in the afternoon.



March 23, 2019: Satellite Saturday

I don’t often fly on Saturdays, so this is a great chance to catch up on the Satellite pictures.

The MODIS camera on NASA’s Terra satellite got a nice sharp picture yesterday.

Liam Gumley, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The first thing you’ll notice is that this picture looks like it’s in black and white. It’s not. There just isn’t a lot of sparkling blue water or green leaves at this time of year.

Need a little help getting oriented? You won’t find your house on this picture: the smallest identifiable features are lakes about the size of Kenora’s Rabbit Lake, Round Lake and Laurenson’s Lake. All three are inside the little red circle.

Gives you an idea of the size of Lake of the Woods, doesn’t it? No, you can’t zoom in to see more detail. This is the highest resolution shot the MODIS camera gives us.

Here’s an old picture of the lake with more features marked.

Satellite Tags 01

The picture above is also on the FAQ page, if you’d like to refer to it later in the season.

It won’t always work out that a clear satellite picture shows up just in time for a Saturday Ice Patrol post. Sometimes it’s too cloudy, sometimes the pictures are blurred.

But I try to update the links at the right after a clear day. Each link shows the date, so you don’t have to click on it if it’s old news. Here’s a picture of what to look for, but the picture does not have live links.

If you can’t find this block of links, it may be because you’re looking at an email instead of the website, or it may be because the mobile version moves the links to the bottom instead of the side. Once you visit the satellite pictures at their own websites, it’s not too hard to change the dates.

I’ll have another new weekly feature starting tomorrow, and I should be flying on Monday, so I hope take some fresh pictures then.


March 21, 2019: Slush

I wrapped up yesterday’s post by saying I’d take fresh pictures today, but I didn’t expect to see much change.

Anyway, we had a bit more time today, so we flew farther out over the lake.

At first, things looked about the same. Down by Sioux Narrows, there was a tiny patch of open water in Whitefish Narrows, but everything else looked like solid ice with good snow cover.  Sorry, no picture; there just wasn’t much to see.

At Big Narrows, although a patch of slush was visible in Tranquil Channel, I didn’t make the significant detour to get a closer look, so no picture of that, either.

Most of the lake still looks like this:

This picture looks north over the Barrier Islands. Twelve Mile Portage, where the ice road crosses Shammis Island, is near the center.

Remember, you can click on these pictures to see them full-screen, and you can click on the larger version to zoom them to their maximum resolution.

As we approached town, things started to change.

This photo was taken from over Allie Island, heading north east toward Middle Island and Hay Island. But look at the slush in the foreground, west of Queer Island.

Next we swung toward Keewatin Channel. There’s more slush between Crowe Island and Yacht Club Island.

My friend Will says snowmobile trails in this area have been treacherous all winter, with lots of slush and weak ice. Here’s a closer look at the same area.

Then on to Rat Portage Bay.

Yesterday’s picture of this area only showed the water coming out of Devil’s Gap and reaching as far as Johnson Island. It actually extends to Caragana Island, and it’s working towards Dingwall Island. Usually, Rat Portage Bay holds out at this stage. The ice road is built where the ice can normally be trusted. Gun Club Island, in the center foreground of this photograph, doesn’t have the same kind of current, and is typically late to thaw.

Lastly a picture of the Kenora harbourfront.

The footbridge to Coney Island crosses the open water at the right of this shot. There’s slush on Kenora Bay downtown now, and open water between Bush Island and the hospital.

I’m encouraged by the spreading slush. It makes travel on the lake very difficult, on or off the ice roads, but we need that snow cover to darken to let the sun’s rays do their work. Warm winds would be helpful, but the best way to get rid of the snow would actually be rain.

The short-term forecast is for warm temperatures as far as Saturday, but our overnight low on Sunday night might be -13ºC, and the following week will see days that barely reach 0º. So, hmm.

You might be wondering how this year’s conditions compare to years past. I was, so I had a look. Right now, the extent of ice, and quality of snow cover look almost identical to the pictures I took this time last year. Each patch of open water I saw today is a near perfect match for March 22, 2018.

This makes sense to me: Sean’s Freezing Index is similar to last year’s.

You don’t have to take my word for this, the ARCHIVE tool on the right-hand sidebar let’s you jump to the Ice Patrol posts for March (or other spring months) of the last few years.

Recent clear skies have allowed me to update all the  SATELLITE PICTURE links.

Please note: these features of the Ice Patrol web page are not replicated in the emails, and are harder to find on the mobile version of the site.

Last year we had a cold snap in late April, and the thaw stalled, pushing ice-out back to mid-May.

The biggest difference between 2019 and 2018 is in the long-term weather outlook. We’re supposed to get above normal temperatures this spring, along with most of western Canada.

Assuming the rosy forecast plays out, we’ll not only avoid those three weeks of cold weather, we’ll have warmer temperatures for most of March and April, too.

March 20, 2019: First Day of Spring

Time for the first pictures. Not many, because there’s not much water to see.

First up, a glance at the Bigstone Bay and Manitou areas. As always, you can click on this picture to see it full screen, and that larger image should still be zoomable.

Apologies for the weird floating propeller blade, but I had to work fast today. This photo looks west, with Hay Island dominating the picture, and Scotty Island toward the upper right of the frame. The main reason I included this shot is to illustrate the pure white snow cover. Those few darker patches are not slush, they are cloud shadows.

Onward to Keewatin Channel, where there’s some open water.

In the distance, Keewatin at the left, downtown Kenora at the right. In the foreground, Channel Island. At the right, Shragges Island. By the nose of the plane, Anglican Island and Crowe Island. Note that the water in Keewatin Channel is nowhere near hooking up to the water in Safety Bay.

Lastly, Devil’s Gap.

Open water has reached Goat Island and Johnson Island in Rat Portage Bay, but that’s as far as it goes for now.

Not captured in any of my pictures, the open water by the Clarion Lakeside Inn. It looked to me as if the pedestrian bridge to Coney Island is floating in a fairly extensive patch of open water.

By the way, if you haven’t been checking out the comments on Ice Patrol, you’ve been missing some interesting remarks on the effects of snow cover and current. Stu Everett checked how the depth of snow remaining at the Kenora airport in late March related to ice-out, and noticed a strong tendency for heavy snow to correlate to late thaws.

Mike wondered if flooding on the American side was going to lead to high rates of flow through Lake of the Woods, and if that would affect the thaw. So Stu went to the Lake of the Woods Control board data and found that water flow didn’t seem to have a strong influence.

Brian went out on the lake in a tracked vehicle and found the deep crusty snow was covering slush so bad that he turned back. He’s hoping that warmer temperatures will turn the snow cover to darker slush that will offer less insulation and reflectivity.

I’ll be flying again tomorrow. Temperatures were quite mild this afternoon, but I don’t expect to see drastic changes overnight.

March 19, 2019: Graphs

Yesterday I talked briefly about Sean’s method for analyzing the winter temperatures to see how much ice we were likely to have. Here’s his first graph for 2019, an update that shows how this winter compares to the last few.

Each spike above the center represents a summer, with the rising line showing the degree days above freezing. When the mean daily temperature falls below zero in the autumn, the line drops vertically and the downward spikes show the degree days below freezing.

A spring day with a mean temperature of 10ºC would be ten degree days.

Based on the severity of the winter Sean estimates how many degree days it will take to thaw the lake, and then looks at the forecast to see how long that might take.

It doesn’t matter much whether we have eight weeks of barely above freezing temperatures, or three weeks of exceptional heat: the numbers come out about right either way. Once enough heat energy is delivered, the ice is gone.

Freeze Thaw Index Graph

So what can we see from this updated graph? The last point on the graph shows that right now, we’re still below freezing most of the time. On the day that the mean temperature goes from below freezing to above*, Sean will draw the vertical upward line that marks the end of winter and place a blue cross on the chart.

Once we reach that point, he’ll be able to estimate our Thaw Index: the number of degree days it might take to melt that much ice.

*For the long term, that is. A single above freezing day does not mark the change of seasons.

But we can already see that this has been a long cold winter. With a freezing index of -1756 degree days, we’re in the same ballpark as last winter. The two winters before that were a lot milder, and you’d have to go back to 2014 to see one that was much worse. That was an ugly winter.

Sean sent along another graph that compares the recent winters in a different way.

Winter Severity Graph

On this plot, each winter gets a different coloured line. Each line ends on the date the mean temperature rose above freezing. This (2019) winter is the dark red line. It goes horizontally after today’s date because we don’t have the whole story yet. We don’t quite know when we’ll switch to thawing and end the line.

That brutal 2014 winter is the grey line at the bottom. We made a lot of ice that winter.

Sean made an interesting point about last winter, represented by the dark blue line. It was leveling off nicely, looked like it was all over, and then things turned cold for three more weeks, which you can see as a late dip in the line that extended it into April.

In summary, this winter was cold enough to make a lot of ice.

There are two things that might tip the balance in favour of an earlier thaw: reports that the ice is not very solid because of frequent snowfalls, and a long-range forecast for warm spring weather.

I’ll start on aerial photography when I have a flight on a  clear day.


March 18, 2019: First Look at Spring

Hi. It looks as if it’s time to fire up the Ice Patrol for another year. Welcome back.

I’ll start by recapping the winter we had. An early cold snap in November pushed temperatures down well below freezing and started making ice. December and early January were mild, but the rest of January and February were bitterly cold.

That could have meant thick ice, but we also had high snowfalls this winter. By mid February, the snow was deep, and there was a forecast for more heavy snow to come. This is what deck looked like when I started to clear it on February 15th.

There were two or three significant snowfalls after that, and all that snow acts as insulation. In the winter, that insulation slows the formation of ice. But in the spring, it protects the ice from warm air, and slows the thaw.

At the beginning of March, I had a training flight and took my first serious look at the ice. At that time, the lake was covered in a deep blanket of snow, and there was very little open water to be found: a tiny scrap in Safety Bay, another in Keewatin Channel, and a third in Devil’s Gap. The currents in these areas are strong. The only other water I spotted was down in Big Narrows, and there wasn’t much. At the Barrier Islands, there was only ice, even at the narrow passages there. It wasn’t worth taking pictures.

But after the first week of March, things started to change. Daytime temperatures rose above zero Celsius, and on March 13, the temperature actually stayed above freezing all night.

This produced a lot of slush. Which then froze a day later, leaving our streets and sidewalks covered in icy ruts.

So today, I started asking my ice-fishing friends what the ice was like. I immediately learned that the ice roads have taken a beating.

Photograph by Don Kozlowski.

This picture was taken on the weekend by Don Kozlowski, who was trying to drive out to an area near Billygoat Island. Notice that although there’s a thick layer of nice white snow on the lake, the ice road is in terrible shape. This all happened since last Thursday, he said.

There’s a large expanse of slush and water visible on Safety Bay now, too. Overall, I hear that the ice is as thick as usual for this time of year, (about a meter) but that the ice quality is poor. Rather than solid, clear blue ice, people are talking about weak ice with a lot of air bubbles in it.

One other item of interest: I got an email from Sean today, my friend who analyses the temperature records to estimate the time needed to thaw the ice. Basically he compares the length and coldness of the winter to the forecast spring conditions. He can form an idea of how much warmth will be needed to melt the ice, and the long-term forecast can give him an idea of how long that will take.

He’ll probably graph some data soon. In the meantime, he thinks the inflection point (the day when the mean daily temperature rises above freezing for good) will be next week. That’s when melting really begins. He’s still working on how many degree days we’ll need, but he’s suggesting we’ll have an early thaw. The most common date range for Lake of the Woods to be ice free is in the first five days of May, but from year to year that can vary by weeks either way. Sean’s preliminary guess for this year is late April.

I’m not ready to commit to a prediction yet, but the Weather Network is calling for a warm spring in this part of Canada, and so far, the forecasts for the next couple of weeks look okay. Daytime temperatures will be above freezing, but nighttime temps will fall below. This coming Saturday might reach 8ºC, but next week looks set to be cooler.

Time will tell.