March 31, 2020: Slush

Yesterday was our warmest day yet, with a high of 11ºC. This produced slush on the lake. In some places, a lot of slush. Here are two pictures from Gerry Rummery, who was out taking down trail markers for the Sunset Trail Riders. Trail L106 runs from Clearwater Bay down to the North West Angle. This first photo was taken on Monument Bay, which is south east of Big Narrows.

Gerry reports that the slush was 12 to 18 inches deep!

You can’t enlarge these pictures because Gerry kept them small in order to email them to me. But you get the idea.

The more northerly parts of the trail were not so bad. One or two inches of slush.

With another day of warm temperatures, this will probably get worse.

Now I need to talk to you about the Covid-19 Pandemic. Kenora’s Lake of the Woods District Hospital is in trouble. Five of our local doctors are  quarantined. We are always short of doctors here, and use visiting doctors from elsewhere in Ontario to make up about 20-30% of the  shifts. Those locum Doctors aren’t coming. They cannot. Many are needed to staff emergency wards in their home cities. Others are in quarantine. Overall, Kenora is down to about half of the doctors we usually have, and quarantine has meant a shortage of nurses as well. Here’s a link to an news story about it from CBC Manitoba.

The LoW District Hospital has only four ICU beds, and no advanced care. Ordinarily, patients who need surgery could be transferred to Winnipeg, especially if they were from Manitoba. Right now there are Manitoban patients who are quarantined because of their travel history: they cannot be returned to Manitoba.

Dr. Sean Moore is the chief of emergency services at Lake of the Woods District Hospital. He urges Manitobans to stay where their doctor is. He’s not alone. Dr. Brent Roussin, chief of Manitoba’s provincial public health office, says travel to areas with small hospitals could overwhelm them. And the Manitoba government is advising cottage owners not to go to their summer properties during the pandemic, in or out of Manitoba.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Kenora Online Covid-19 page. It’s kept up to date. Some stories there: City of Kenora has declared a state of emergency, Manitoba requires self isolation for people entering the province, Ontario Provincial Police can fine people for violating an emergency order.

Please keep yourselves safe. Going to the cottage is not essential travel. I never thought I’d say this on Ice Patrol, but please stay home until things are better.





March 30, 2020: Josh Broten

I received these photos on the afternoon of March 30th, but they were taken on the 29th, by Josh Broten, who flies a Cub out of Rosseau, Minnesota. These pictures were taken from the US side, down near the Northwest Angle.

Above, a view from south of Falcon Island looking NNE.

You can click on these pictures to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

Cropped N7645A 20200329 Photo 2View from SW of Oak Island looking NNE.

Cropped N7645A 20200329 Photo 5View E of Oak Island towards Splitrock Island with Bay, Poplar and Skiff Islands in the foreground.

Cropped N7645A 20200329 Photo 6View SE of Oak Island of the Big Traverse towards Big and Bigsby Islands.  Garden Island at the center of the photo.

These photos make it clear that there’s a lot of ice, and it’s mostly in good condition.

Josh sent pictures last year, too, so let’s hope he keeps flying. Thanks.


March 30, 2020: Warm week

Just a quick update without pictures. Cam tells me the ice was still nearly three feet thick yesterday. He was near Crescent Island. He describes the ice as strong and solid, and the snow cover as several inches of clean crystalline snow.

This week is warm, with daytime highs of about 9ºC. Overnight lows have been just a few degrees below freezing. Does this mean we’re above freezing on average, and have therefore passed the Inflection Date? Maybe not. The weather forecast says that although the next few days will be mild, temperatures will sink again after that. Thursday looks set to be cool and rainy, and Friday is expected to be snowy and stay below 0ºC, and then it looks like a few days will hover around freezing. We’ll have to wait and see how it really averages out. Rain at this time of year is very helpful because it washes off the snow cover. Fresh snow is just the opposite, of course.

If you have photos from out on the lake, I’d like them, but keep in mind that the comment box can only handle text. Take a look on the ABOUT tab to see how to email them to me. I would need the photographer’s name, and info on when and where the pictures were taken. Please don’t send more than one or two, it’s easy to clog my mailbox. Remember: you only have the right to submit your own photographs (because of copyright) and you should give permission to post them on the site.

Oh, I almost forgot: the gulls are back! A small flock is hanging out on the Norman Dam, pestering the ravens. The hiking trails on Tunnel Island are still very icy. There are a few dry spots, but also many places where the ice softened to slush and refroze. On the north side of the island, there are some extensive sheets of sloping ice. You need cleats to do any serious hiking.

March 25, 2020: No more flights

I’m sorry to tell you that I will not be flying during this year’s thaw. The company has no clients actively flying or likely to book trips in the next several weeks, so temporary layoff notices have been sent out. I do not expect to fly again until summer. Training flights have been cancelled. We have one crew available in case something comes up.

I could try to do a post once a week or so, with satellite imagery and graphs, but I won’t be able to observe or comment on the stage by stage developments on the lake.

On the bright side, the spring will come whether I document it or not. The Canada geese are back now, and the hardy goldeneye ducks have been around for weeks.

Sean sent me a couple of graphs the other day. Now seems like a good time to put them up.

2020 Year by Year

On this graph, cold temperatures drive the winter spikes downward, so that a long cold winter has a deeper and wider profile than a mild one. Last winter, looking unfinished at the right side of the graph, seems to be one of the milder ones. Sean uses this data to guess at the overall ice thickness. Then, once our temperatures are above freezing, he makes an estimate of how many warm days it will take to melt it all.

For a different way of comparing the winter to previous ones, he produces this graph:2020 Year Comparison

Each winter gets its own coloured line, tracking a simple points system: each day, the mean daily temperature moves the line down that much. If the daily mean temp is -10ºC, the line drops ten points. This year is the fat dashed line, and if temperatures level off the way Sean extrapolated, we can see that recently there have been six longer, colder winters, and just three milder ones.

That’s all for now. Stay well.



March 20, 2020: First day of spring

Saint Patrick’s Day has come and gone, and this is around the time when I usually start paying close attention to the ice.

But before you get all excited, I should point out that it was -17ºC this morning and it felt like -24º. Naturally, we are not seeing a whole lot of melting. On recent training flights over the lake, I have seen very little open water. Many areas that were open a few weeks ago have refrozen in the last one or two cold spells.

Although it warmed up this afternoon, it will be cold again tonight. But starting tomorrow, there should be a warming trend for a week or so.

I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures, because there’s not much to see. Just to give you an idea, here’s a shot that looks south west.

Cropped 20200320_105924

Scotty Island and it’s distinctive curving beach are at the bottom of the frame, just left of centre. Big Narrows and Shoal Lake Narrows are off in the distance. These are both high-flow areas that open early. So far, there are only tiny patches of visible water.

You can click on the pictures to see full-screen versions that can be zoomed to full resolution.

This second picture of The Manitou looks north east over Twelve Mile Portage towards Whiskey Island with Kenora in the distance.

Cropped 20200320_115047

Closer to town, there is some open water in Keewatin Channel and on Safety Bay. Otherwise, as you can see, the lake is iced over and well covered in fresh white snow.

Be of good cheer, though, my ice fishing friends tell me the ice is still only around two and a half feet thick, which is on the thin side for this time of year.

You may be wondering if the Covid-19 pandemic will affect Ice Patrol. Yes, it will.

Most of the flights I do are trips to northern communities. Nearly all of those trips have been cancelled, as those remote communities have closed themselves off to unnecessary visitors. They have good reason: self-isolation is not going to work well in a place with housing shortages and overcrowded living conditions. Diabetes is common and health facilities are modest. If the virus were to get a foothold in those communities, it would run rampant.

That means I will be in the air less often. At MAG Canada, we are using this slow period to catch up on our training, so there are still some flights, for the time being. Other airlines are reducing their schedules and laying people off, so I don’t expect to get as many pictures from guest contributors this spring.


If you are checking in with Ice Patrol from outside the area, or outside Canada, here is a summary of how Covid-19 is affecting our town.

So far, there are no known cases in Kenora. But there is one confirmed case in Fort Frances, so Northwestern Ontario is in the early stages. There are a number of cases in Manitoba, so it’s a matter of when, not if.

Schools are closed. Spring Break is almost over, but the schools will remain closed for at least another two weeks.

The recreation centre, (pool, rink, gym etc.) are closed, as are the museum and libraries. Town offices are closed to the public. Provincial court is suspended.

Supermarkets are open, but the tellers are wearing gloves or using hand sanitizer. Plexiglass shields may be coming soon. The liquor store is shortening their hours.

The hospital and seniors homes are restricting visitors.

The veterinary clinic is seeing sick animals only; no routine pet checkups or vaccinations.

Most hairdressers/salons are closed. Banks are taking extra precautions.

Many people have been told to work from home. At my workplace, this includes administrative staff. Pilots and mechanics are still going to the hangar as necessary.

The provincial government has declared a state of emergency. All restaurants must cease serving food on the premises: they can only do take-out or delivery. Bars are closed.  Gatherings such as socials and weddings are not going ahead.

The federal government has instituted tight border controls on Canada, including road ports of entry. For now, you can enter Canada if you are a citizen or a permanent resident. Canadian snowbirds and vacationers can expect to be interviewed about health-related topics, and to be told to self-isolate for two weeks.

Americans may be allowed in if they have a student visa or a work permit, but not for casual travel or routine business.

Most international flights are cancelled. Winter vacation charters are wrapping up the season early.

Here’s a link to Kenora Online’s Covid-19 page, which is updated regularly.

Stay well. Be good.



March 7, 2020: Bulletins

First, this notice from the City of Kenora, issued March 4th:

On Monday, March 9th the winter road access on Coney Island will be closed for the season.
Residents with vehicles on the island should consider moving [them] before the chain across the road is locked preventing vehicles from returning to mainland.
Thank you for your cooperation.

This marks the beginning of the end for the ice roads. If this seems early, don’t be too surprised: the Lake of the Woods Control Board has been warning of thin and unreliable ice on the Winnipeg River all winter. That’s because high flow through the Norman Dam has meant strong currents on the river, and poor ice formation.

Likewise, those parts of Lake of the Woods that have significant water flow are also likely to have weak ice. That includes Safety Bay, one of the first areas to open up because of the water flowing out of the lake and into the river.

My ice-fishing friends report that ice is generally thinner than usual, and very thin in some places. It’s common in March for the ice to be about a meter thick, so that three-foot augers sometimes cannot penetrate without an extension. This year, I hear that the ice is somewhere between two and three feet thick, except where it isn’t. One friend was drilling a handful of holes and was shocked to find that in one spot, the drill popped through ice that was only a few inches thick. Probably there had been a little patch of open water there that had only frozen over during the most recent cold snap. Then fresh snow made it look just like the solid ice all around.

Other pilots and I are observing large areas of slushy ice, and snowmobilers have confirmed this.

Sean Cockrem is working on his graphs, so we’ll soon be able to visually compare this winter to other recent ones. We expect this will confirm our feeling that this winter was pretty mild.

Regular reports on Ice Patrol will commence soon, as we are probably approaching this year’s Inflection Date, the day when temperatures start to average above freezing. More precisely, the date when the Mean Daily Temperatures begin to consistently exceed 0°C. That’s when the thaw starts in earnest.

Lastly, if you’d like to meet me in person, I’ll be talking at this year’s Common Ground, where storytellers share their special stories about their connection to Lake of the Woods.

This year there are eight featured speakers. The event is on Saturday, April 4th, from 9 am to 2:30 pm, at the Seven Generations Conference Centre, 240 Veterans Drive.

I believe tickets are $30 in advance or $35 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Kenora Public Libraries and the Lake of the Woods Museum. There’s a morning break and a lunch break.

I’ll be speaking just after 9:00, right after the opening remarks. I’ll be showing pictures and talking about how Ice Patrol began and evolved, and what I’ve learned from all those years observing the ice-out. There will be a few minutes for questions.


June 5, 2019: Big Trout Lake

Just in case you were wondering when the last ice in Ontario melts, here’s a picture of it.


Big Trout Lake is over 500 kilometres north of Kenora, and as you might guess from the name, it is both large and deep. There are lakes further north, but because they’re smaller and have more current, they thaw earlier.