May 11, 2022: Turning Point

With half the ice gone, I stop showing where the water is expanding, and start looking at where the ice is shrinking.

Technical notes:

I have added a link to the Navionics online map of Lake of the Woods to the right-hand sidebar, next door to the Satellite links. If you don’t recognize some of the place names I use, this zoomable map is a great help. When I’m writing Ice Patrol posts, I keep it open on a separate tab in case I need to check something. This is way easier than unfolding and refolding my many marine charts.

Ice Patrol is having some of its heaviest traffic ever. Recently, it’s been averaging over 2000 visits a day. Notably, there is a higher than normal proportion of visitors from the USA. I think they’ve missed us. Come on up!

I received more pictures yesterday than I could process. Here are Josh Broten’s lovely pictures from the south side of the lake.

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

Looking SE over Buffalo Point. The ice is gone from Warroad to Buffalo and then narrows as you get to Rocky Point.

Over Buffalo Point looking NW. You can see Moose Lake is ice free.

Over Sand Point Bay looking SE. you can see of in the distance how the the lake is ice free from Rocky Point to Rainy River.

Looking NE over the NW Angle. Mostly open water from Oak Island and north.

Over Windigo Island looking NE. For the most part it is open water all the way past Tranquil Channel and Big Narrows.

Looking westward you can see Shoal Lake is still iced over.

Over Royal Island looking NE toward Kenora. Tranquil channel and Big Narrows are in the center of the picture.

Over Tranquil channel looking east over Sunset Channel.

Over Crescent Island looking north towards Kenora.

Over Yellow Girl Point looking Northerly towards Kenora. Lots of of Ice still between Kenora and the Alneau.

Another look to the west over sunset channel.

Looking east over Smith Island with Sioux Narrows in the distance. Lots of open water.

Josh is one of my favourite contributors. He edits his own pictures and even provides captions. Thanks, Josh!

Between Tom Hutton’s coverage of the east and north parts of the lake shown in yesterday’s post, and Josh Broten’s flight over the south and central parts, we’ve checked almost everything except the Ptarmigan and Clearwater Bays in the north west corner and Morson in the south east.

It looks as if we are now on track to have one of the fastest (and latest) thaws of this century. Once half the ice has melted, the remainder is floating loose at the mercy of the wind. With mid-May temperatures, it should be only a matter of days until it’s all gone. I looked back at 2014 to search for pictures showing an equivalent amount of ice cover at the same time of year, and I think we’re just five to seven days from total ice-out. A quick check of the MODIS archives from that similarly late spring suggests the same sort of timeline.

If this does become the fastest thaw in my records, there will be two main reasons. First, when the thaw starts late, it’s likely to run into warmer temperatures in late spring. So late starting thaws generally run faster than the ones that begin in March. Secondly, we’ve had an extraordinary amount of wet weather. A string of Colorado lows set records for precipitation in April and I think early May, too. And while you might be tempted to credit the rain for the rapid melt, meteorologists insist that it’s actually the high humidity that does the heavy lifting.

Signs of spring:

The floatplanes have been flocking in. River Air’s Caravan has been joined by a turbine Otter and a Beaver.

On a recent drive from the Kenora waterfront to Keewatin, I spotted another small plane near Q-104, meaning that I saw more  floatplanes in the water than boats. Most of the marinas had no boats at all at the docks, or just one or two. I expect that to change rapidly, as I have noticed a lot of boat trailers in the last few days, and the ice is letting go at many of the docks.

If you’re planning to put your boat in the water soon, don’t forget your safety equipment. Water traffic will be light at first, so if you have motor trouble you might have to wait a while for help. It is wise to take warm clothing with you.

Time for my annual reminder that when float planes are landing or taking off, they have the right of way over boats, because those stages of flight are critical. Safety Bay is a designated water aerodrome, so be alert there. Once a plane is on the water, it becomes a boat in the eyes of the law, and has the same right-of-way as other boat traffic. Having said that, floatplanes have no brakes and limited steering*, so I suggest giving them a wide berth.

*If you want to know how good a floatplane pilot is, you don’t watch them land. You watch them dock!

 

 

May 10, 2022: It’s Going Fast

Yesterday, Ice Patrol and I took a day off, as poor weather meant I had no pictures to share. I felt a warm spell and then wind and wet weather should have made a big difference, but I had no way to see how much, and I didn’t want to speculate.

But today the sun came out, and we got some answers. Both Aqua and Terra satellites got good shots with their MODIS equipment today.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, May 10, 2022, in false colour.

There are big changes visible in the few hours between Aqua’s pass and Terra‘s.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 10, 2022, in false colour.

It looks as if the lake has lost about half of its ice. Normally, I’d say things should go fast from this point, but they already are!

The nice weather brought out the pilots, too, and I received a lot of pictures today. Tom Hutton had a chance to take a great series of pictures of the east side of the lake as he flew from Fort Frances to Kenora in sunny (but very bumpy) conditions.

You can click on Tom’s pictures to see larger, zoomable versions with more detail.

Nestor Falls.

Tom’s route brought him to Lake of the Woods at roughly Nestor Falls. Lots of water here now.

Then Whitefish Bay, which we seldom get pictures of.

Whitefish Bay.

In this shot, it looks like Whitefish Bay has entirely melted. But we need to take a closer look at the northern part of the bay.

Northern part of Whitefish Bay. Sioux Narrows is visible at the right, below the propeller blade tip.

Turns out there’s still extensive ice on the north half of Whitefish.

Whitefish Narrows.

Whitefish Narrows is just below the blade tip. These narrows are actually early to thaw, but this year it has taken some time for that open water to spread into Whitefish Bay.

West end of Long Bay and Yellow Girl Bay.

Still ice in Yellow Girl Bay. And plenty more to the north west.

The Barrier Islands and the Eastern Peninsula.

This shows almost the full stretch of the Barrier Islands. The Elbow is at the left, and French Narrows are near the middle. Lots of ice south of the Barrier Islands, which is typical. The distant ice is the Manitou.

West Manitou.

In the picture above, Birch Island is above the centre, and part of Whisky Island is at the right edge. Almost all ice here, as this is another late-thawing area.

 

East Manitou.

We’re getting closer to Kenora now. The curved beach at Scotty Island is just at the right edge of the frame.

Wildcat Island and Anchor Island.

Wildcat is in the centre. The foreground ice touches Hough Island and sticks to the shore of Thompson Island at the left. Holmstrom’s Marsh still looks icy.

Treaty Island.

Treaty Island dominates this picture, with Shragge’s Island just by the propeller spinner.* Notice how the ice roads are holding on between Treaty Island and Rogers Island, just above the engine nacelle.** Further left, by the tip of the propeller blade, the ice roads around Gun Club Island in Rat Portage Bay are breaking up and moving around. That’s significant, because Gun Club Island is usually late to break free.

*The shiny cover at the centre of the propeller is called the spinner. It’s like a hubcap, but very firmly attached.

**The streamlined fairings that cover the engines on a twin-engined airplane are the nacelles. On this King Air, the nacelles are painted white.

I wanted to see Pine Portage Bay, because Barb Enders sent me two pictures of Northern Harbour on the weekend. The first was taken just before noon on Friday. The second was taken on Sunday morning, just 46 hours later, and there was a spectacular change in the condition of the ice.

Pine Portage Bay.

Looks like the ice is still holding on there. At the right of the photo, you can see that Bigstone Bay is still ice-covered, too. Slow currents mean that Bigstone usually lags behind.

Our last shot from Tom shows the downtown Kenora waterfront and part of Coney Island. Thanks, Tom!

Coney Island.

There are still sizeable pans of ice south of Coney, around Goat Island and Johnson Island in Rat Portage Bay. Most years, once those were gone, the Coney Island footbridge would be removed to facilitate boat traffic. But not this year.

The Coney Island footbridge was damaged by wind and ice on Monday evening. You can read about it on Kenora Online.

So that’s one sign of spring we’ll have to do without this year, but there are others.

The first floatplane docked on the Kenora harbourfront today. River Air’s Caravan will be followed by more of their planes tomorrow. The pilots who brought it down from Minaki, Jamie Clemmens and Robyn Warken, took some pictures for me, but there were technical issues, and I’m still working on that.

Josh Broten took some pictures today, too, and they’ll round out the lake coverage with photos of the south west portion. It’s getting late, so I’ll put them up tomorrow morning.

Thanks everyone!

The weather outlook for the next while is a mixed bag, with more cloud and some showers. Temperatures will be mostly back to near normal, but with cooler conditions as the weekend arrives, naturally. Things should recover a bit a few days later.

May 4, 2022: Startling Change

I had a chance to go flying today. Quinn Wilson, one of my former colleagues, was able to take me for a flight in one of MAG Canada’s Rockwell Aero Commander 500s.

We went for a tour of the northern half of the lake. I took quite a lot of pictures, and here’s a selection of the most informative.

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

Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay.

The usual shot taken shortly after take-off. At the left edge, Rat Portage Bay is showing an increased amount of open water; it approaches Gun Club Island now.

We flew west to check out Clearwater Bay.

Clearwater Bay and Deception Bay.

Most of Clearwater and Ptarmigan are still frozen over.

Deception Bay.

But there is some open water around the marina in Deception Bay.

Ash Rapids.

I wanted a closer look at Ash Rapids to see if there was more open water than yesterday. I think yes, a little.

Southwest end of Big Narrows.

Big Narrows is practically wide open now. Of course, the routes to it are still frozen.

Wiley Point.

From Big Narrows, the open water has spread as far as Wiley Point.

From there, we cruised over to look at the Barrier Islands.

Crow Rock Pass.

Spotted some open water at Crow Rock Pass, and there’s a tiny bit near Twelve Mile Portage, too.

The Elbow.

Developments around the Elbow look more dramatic. I’m sure there’s more open water here than in Justin’s pictures from just thirty hours earlier.

Queer Island and French Narrows.

And where we saw weakening ice yesterday, there are growing patches of open water around Queer Island.

Next, over to Bigstone Bay.

Eagle Pass.

There’s still just a very small patch of water at Eagle Pass.

Scotty Island, Nanton Island, Town Island.

I’m keeping a close eye on the waters approaching Scotty Island, as this is an area of dynamic change. I think there’s a visible difference since yesterday.

Lastly, a look at Devil’s gap from the Rogers Island side.

Rogers Island and Devil’s Gap.

Ice in this area always holds out longer than you’d expect. In fact, this very spot was the reason Ice Patrol started in the first place,  But there is noticeable change here, too, as the water opens up towards Galt Island.

I hope to go flying with Quinn again in a few days. Thanks, Quinn!

In summary, there was a surprising amount of change in one day. Patches of rotten ice opened up dramatically, and most areas with open water saw at least a little expansion.

The latest MODIS image bears that out.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, May 4, 2022, in false colour.

Here’s the matching shot from yesterday.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 3, 2022, in false colour.

Black patches of open water seem larger in today’s image. Although the lake is still about 95% ice-covered, whole swaths of that ice have turned darker, indicating that it is thinning or weakening.

The weather: tomorrow we might see above normal temperatures for the first time in weeks. The Weather Network says a high of 16°C, slightly above seasonal norms of around 15. Environment Canada thinks we might make it to 18°C. Friday’s supposed to be similar, but the weather will be a few degrees cooler on the weekend, and rain is expected to start on Saturday night and last a few days. I was recently reminded by retired meteorologist Louis Legal, that it’s not the actual rain that destroys ice. It’s the high humidity that comes with the rain, and the energy transferred when water vapour condenses onto snow or ice. So I expect rapid change for the next few days. We could be approaching a turning point.

The Lake of the Woods Control Board has announced that the Norman Dam will soon be going wide open. You can read the full announcement at the preceding link, but the gist of it is that there was record precipitation in April, so the lake has been rising fast and will continue to do so. The lake is already at 95th percentile levels, and it is predicted to reach the highest allowable levels by mid-May. Even at maximum flow, the dam cannot drain the lake as fast as it is filling up, so the dam will be opening all the way on May 7, in an attempt to get a head start.

Signs of spring: Loons are back. I thought I spotted some yesterday, but today I was able to confirm it with Derek, an experienced birder who has seen and heard them clearly. Oh, I guess that’s another sign of spring: the birders must be getting more active, because I met two today. On a more urban level, the street-sweepers are out. This also sparks joy, but in a less poetic way.

April 28, 2022: Aerial Photos

My old friend Tom Hutton went flying on over the lake yesterday, and took a whole set of pictures for us.

You can still count the open patches of water on Lake of the Woods on your fingers, but let’s go have a look at some of them.

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

Kenora, with Rat Portage Bay in the middle and Safety Bay to the right.

Okay, everybody in town knows there’s open water on Safety Bay.

Here’s a closer look at what’s open in Keewatin Channel and Second Channel.

Keewatin Channel and Second Channel. White Partridge Bay in the distance.

We’ve covered this key area in more detail with Paul Leischow’s drone panoramas, but here’s an overview that puts it in perspective.

What about further south than this. Is the ice letting go around Town Island yet?

Town Island at the lower right, Thompson Island in the middle and Wolf Island up and to the left.

It’s starting to look pretty rotten here, where the current flows into Keewatin Channel. But there’s still a whole lot of snow-covered ice out in the Manitou, and well, everywhere. That’s Shoal Lake way off in the distance.

Now a look at the Barrier Islands, because this is the next closest place to Kenora where we can expect to see open water in the early stages of the thaw.

Looking West from the Eastern Peninsula along the Barrier Islands. Square Island* is at the lower right.

There’s a fair-sized expanse of water at the Elbow. French Narrows, at the western tip of the Eastern Peninsula has just a tiny patch. You’ll have to zoom in to see it well. It’s just left of centre in this picture.

*Square Island is not square in shape. It is shaped like a carpenter’s square.

How about down at the south end of the lake?

Looking south from near the Northwest Angle. Birch Island, Oak Island and Flag Island span the picture at the edge of the Big Traverse.

Big Traverse is still ice-covered, but the photo above shows quite a lot of open water along the west side of Falcon Island.

Big Narrows is always worth checking on.

Looking east over Big Narrows.

We saw some low-altitude views of this area from Scott Benson yesterday. In some of those pictures, the slanting evening light made some of the ice resemble water. Here’s how it looks from a higher viewpoint, and the daylight makes the extent of the water very clear.

Lastly, as Tom headed back towards the airport, he took a look at Devil’s Gap.

Devil’s Gap.

This wasn’t clearly visible in the first photo, but you can see that there’s only small penetration of water into Rat Portage Bay, and everything out towards Bigstone Bay is pretty solid.

Thanks, Tom!

Signs of spring: pre-season training for the water-bomber pilots.

Tanker practicing on Safety bay, as seen from Norman Beach.

You might recall that a recent photo showed no open water on Wabigoon Lake, close to Dryden’s big Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources base. Every spring, tanker crews come to Kenora to train on either Safety Bay or the Winnipeg River.

April 27, 2022: Clear Skies

After several days of poor weather, skies finally lifted yesterday. That brought the aerial photographers out.

Tom Lindstrom, one of my airline pilot friends, was passing overhead in a 737 yesterday, and although Kenora was covered by cloud when he went by, he found Dryden in the clear.

Here’s a look at how things are going on Wabigoon Lake.

You can click on this picture to see a much larger, zoomable version.

The only open water I can see is in the Wabigoon River. Even the smaller lakes around the Dryden Regional Airport are still ice-covered. This shows that we are still at the stage where melting is only happening due to water flow.

Tom Lindstrom has contributed photos to Ice Patrol before, and knew I was anxious for fresh shots this spring. Thanks, Tom!

We also have a new contributor. Scott Benson has been an Ice Patrol follower for years, and yesterday he sent me photographs of Lake of the Woods taken from his Piper PA-12 on skis.

You can click on these pictures to see much larger, zoomable versions.

Looking East across Big Narrows, with the twin fingers of Ferris Island near the centre of the shot.

Don’t be fooled by the subtle difference between ice and water in the distance. If you zoom in for a closer look, it’s almost all ice.

Tranquil Channel, looking north at De Noyon Island. Big Narrows Island stretches out from under the wing strut, and there’s more open water to the north of it, in the main channel.

There’s a clear pattern here. There’s only open water in passages with current. The vast majority of the lake is still ice-covered.

Redwater Bay, south of Tranquil Channel, looking east. The current has opened a little water around Kennedy Island.

The west end of Long Bay, with part of Yellow Girl Bay at the right edge. Most of these islands are nameless on my charts, except for Pewabic Island near the right edge.

Tom Bowman was the first person to specify the exact location of this photo.

Water at the north west end of Yellow Girl Bay. South Strawberry Island is at the left edge, and Fog Island is in the distance above the centre of the frame.

Several people pitched in to help me figure out the location for this photo. Thanks to Jim Richardson, David Lindstrom and Doug LeBlanc for pointing me to Yellow Girl Bay. That led me to nearby parts of Long Bay to figure out the previous picture.

Thanks, Scott. I hope you’ll send more pictures in the coming weeks.

Now, let’s talk about how the thaw is progressing. We’ve been basically stalled for a month, with little progress during April. To illustrate that point, let’s compare yesterday’s satellite images to one from a month ago.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, April 26, 2022.

 

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, March 26, 2022.

Yes, there’s a little more open water now, but in many years, the change during that month would have been profound. Sometimes, total.

Okay, so it’s been cold recently. What about looking forward? The good news is, we’ve probably arrived at the Inflection Date. Finally. The seven day forecast says we’ll have above-freezing temperatures every day, and we could flirt with double-digit highs for a few of those days. Nighttime lows will be nearly always above freezing, but not by much.

That means the air temperatures will be mild enough to start actually melting ice, and it’s about time. The sun’s rays are powerful this time of year, and the days are long, so I hope to see steady progress. That’s the good news.

Working against us are two significant factors. One, it was a long, cold winter, and we probably still have a lot of ice. Two, the refreshingly mild temperatures in our forecast are not all that warm compared to seasonal norms. An average high for today’s date would be 12.6°C. The record high, set in 1952, was 28.9°C!

The long-term forecast holds out hope for some slightly better than average temperatures starting around May 5th, but the best number on there so far is a shot at hitting 15°C on one day. That’s not exactly a heat wave.

So if we have to thaw the entire lake with only so-so warmth, it’s still going to take some time. I heard from Sean Cockrem yesterday, and he’s all set to start graphing the data based on today as Inflection. I look forward to seeing his prediction, but even with the tendency of late thaws to move fast, I’m not expecting a miracle.

April 4, 2022: Fresh Aerial Photos

Please join me in welcoming a new contributor, freshly licenced pilot Joel Wiebe. He flies a vintage 1953 Cessna 170B, and has a camp out on Middle Island, so I look forward to pictures of that area from him in the near future.

In the meantime, today’s pictures are of Keewatin Channel, Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay. Why is there so much emphasis on this area right now? Well, for one thing, it’s where the water is. Nearly everything else is frozen, and if you’ve seen one stretch of lake ice, you’ve seen them all.

Poplar Bay and Holmstrom’s Marsh, in the foreground, Keewatin Channel in the centre of the picture.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version. I had to compress the images a little to upload them, because modern digital cameras, including the ones on smartphones, create very large image files.

Rat Portage Bay, with the open water of Safety Bay in the middle distance.

Thanks, Joel.

This is the second post on Ice Patrol today. There is an update to the previous post. Scroll down past Paul Leischow’s first drone panorama, and if you don’t see the word UPDATE in bold red text, hit refresh on your browser. The updated version now includes a link to Paul’s matching panorama from exactly one year earlier.

Two Ice Patrol posts in one day must be a sign that things are heating up.

Signs of spring: I saw five Canada geese today. I think I might have seen some gulls, but they were too far away to be sure.

Ice Patrol Advanced User Tip:

When I wanted to find the Ice Patrol post with Paul’s drone panorama from last year, I used the search tool on the right-hand sidebar. Entering “drone” or “Leischow” in the search field gave me a list of posts, showing the first sentences of each and offering a Read More option.

This tool works on anything I’ve tagged, and I apply a lot of tags to each post. This entry has tags for Poplar Bay, Holmstrom’s Marsh, The Tangle, Joel Wiebe and so on.

You can use this method to hunt down posts about your favourite part of the lake.

One more reason to visit the Ice Patrol website, even if your primary approach is to subscribe to the email list.

March 23, 2022: Colin Napper

We have our first aerial photos of the year. Colin Napper went flying with Connor Ward in Connor’s Grumman Cheetah on Sunday. He had some trouble sending the pictures (uploading full-size pictures often causes a smart-phone to time out or give up.) so I didn’t get them until today.

Anyway, here’s what the lake looks like near town, as of Sunday, March 20th.

Looking west over Rat Portage Bay, with Kenora in the foreground and Safety Bay and Keewatin at the right.

You can click on these images to see them full-size and zoomable.

Note that there’s not a lot of open water, even in Safety Bay. In past years, I wouldn’t have started taking pictures until Safety Bay was open from shore to shore. If you’re wondering about the rest of the lake, fuggetaboutit. It’s ice.

This is Second Channel, looking northwest with Keewatin visible at the upper right.

And hello, what’s this?

A rare sighting of the elusive March Boater.

So a big thank-you to Colin and Connor for sending these along. I hope they’ll become regular contributors. Feel free to thank them in the comments.

Speaking of regulars, I have heard from some of my other flying friends.

Bruce White, who flies Boeing 777’s has said he’ll take pictures when he passes over. 

Josh Broten, who has been sending in pictures from his Cub for years now, has a fancy new plane. His Arion Lightning will let him travel over the lake faster.

Oh, and one last photo for fun. Sean Cockrem, the graph guy, had to snap this picture at a Winnipeg Jets game this winter. 

OHO! What’s that on that guy’s phone? The pancake graph!

Sean was amazed to see this in the audience. Someone explaining the Ice Patrol Pancake Graph to their friend. I’m delighted. Big shout out to these guys, whoever they are!

And now that the topic of graphs has come up, here’s a look at one of Sean’s. He’s been monitoring this winter closely because of how cold it was.

You can click on the graph, too, for a larger and sharper view.

 

This is a comparative graph that shows the Cumulative Freezing Index* for different years in different colours. By putting them together as an overlay, you can see how the winters since 2012 stack up. The fat dashed line represents this winter. Two things stand out. First, the only winter with worse numbers by this date was 2014, which was a brute. Second, the winter’s not over yet: in most years, we’re still making ice in March. One ray of hope, our recent warm temperatures clearly show as that uptick at the lower end of this year’s line.

*The Cumulative Freezing Index is a simple measure of how cold it’s been.

If the daily mean temperature was -5°C yesterday, the line grows downward by 5 points. If it’s +3°C today, the line swings up by 3 points.

Naturally, most years show steep drops in January, and start levelling off in March. This winter shows deep cold driving the line down in both January and February. If you were here, you’ll remember why.

I asked Sean if he thought we could have hit the Inflection Date** with our recent warm weather. He says it’s possible, but it’s quite common to see a warm spell give way to lingering cold weather. He’ll feel more confident when we see what kind of temperatures we get in the next week or two. They’re forecasting a cold weekend, with temperatures dropping as low as -17°C and highs of -9°C or thereabouts. After that, we’ll be getting close to April, and can hope for milder weather.

**Inflection Date is the date when the Daily Mean Temperature rises above freezing on a lasting basis. Right now, we’re waiting to see if it lasts. At Ice Patrol, we consider the inflection date to be the start of the lake’s thaw.

For perspective, average temperatures for this time of year are highs of around zero and lows of about -9°C. So when we were hitting highs of 10°, that was a bonus, and that’s why it stands out on the graph.

Okay, that’s all for now.

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.

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.

20190605_142611

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.

May 1, 2019: Marinas, Aerials and a Graph

Lots of stuff today. I’ll start with some contributor photos, move on to a handful of fresh aerial photographs, and finish with a look at Sean’s Thaw Graph and the weather outlook.

You can click on any of the images to see them full-screen. Some will be higher resolution than others.

I got photographs from three contributors today that follow up on my marina report from yesterday. Here they are in the order I received them.

Al Smith sent me this picture of the docks at Smith Camps on Thunder Bay.

Smith Camps on Thunder Bay.

This shot looks out from Thunder Bay at Bigstone Bay.

Then Ian Bruce sent me this look at Bigstone from a different vantage point.

Ian says: Taken from mainland on Branch road 6A, looking south to Hay Island. Boulder Island middle distance to the east side touching flag pole. Still lots of ice, shorelines thinning to a bit open.

A little later, Brian Finnegan sent me a picture  of Henderson’s Marina on Route Bay.

Henderson’s Marina, Route Bay.

Looks like things are coming along there.

In a separate email, Brian attached this shot of the docks at Northern Harbour.

Docks at Northern Harbour, Pine Portage Bay.

Brian mentioned that marina operator Gary Hall said he hopes to be putting boats in the water next week.

Thanks to Al, Ian and Brian for taking the time to send me their pictures to share with you.

Okay, on to aerial photographs. Today wasn’t great weather for taking pictures. Luckily, I grabbed a few shots in the morning, just in case the afternoon was poor. This turned out to be the right choice: although we had low cloud in the morning, we had lower cloud in the afternoon, with showers as well.

So, I’ll start with the standard view of downtown Kenora I get after we lift off from Runway 26 and climb to the west.

Laurenson’s Lake is open now, and so is Round Lake (not shown in this pic) Rat Portage Bay still has some ice, but it looks very weak.

As we start to swinging south to head east to Dryden, we get a look at the area south of Devil’s Gap.

In brief: Matheson Bay at the left, Gordon and Galt Islands near the middle, Rogers and Treaty Islands at the right. The ice looks soft here, too. The channel into Devil’s Gap is open at the lower left, partly blurred out by a propeller blade.

Next, as we continue to turn from south to east, we look at Bald Indian Bay.

Sultana Island dominates the middle of the frame, Pine Portage Bay is behind that, and Heenan Point extends almost to the right edge of the picture. Thunder Bay lies behind it.

Okay, remember how I said it was a good thing I snapped a few pictures on the way out this morning? Here’s what it looked like in the afternoon. I had to grab this shot through the side window; it’s impossible to shoot through the windshield with our high-speed wipers going.

Anyway, this looks south west at part of Bigstone Bay with Heenan Point at the right and Hay Island emerging from the rain in the distance.

Now, on to the weather situation.

I had to email Sean to ask him to update the Thaw Graph. As you can imagine, it’s not good news, and he didn’t want to depress everyone. Even so, I think it’s a useful way to picture the temperature trends and their significance.

Click on the graph to more easily read the fine print. The blue line with dots represents how our daily mean temperature is adding up towards our goal. (Set to 240 points based on similar ice-making conditions last winter.) With recent temperatures barely squeaking above freezing, that upward progress has levelled off lately. That means a delay in accumulating enough warm weather to melt the presumed amount of ice.

Which brings us to the forecast. A normal daytime high this time of year is around 15ºC. The current  Weather Network forecast doesn’t call for a temperature that warm until mid-May. Forecasts can be wrong, of course, and they’re most certainly subject to change. But it seems likely that we’ll be spending the next two weeks struggling, (and mostly failing) to reach double-digit highs. At night, we’ll be close to freezing.

If there’s a bright side, it’s a peculiar one: miserable weather can also remove ice. Rain and wind are not as nice as sunshine, but they do transfer energy that can melt and break up ice. As we head into May, I’ll take any help we can get.