November 15, 2018: We’re Making Ice

We’ve changed seasons. The average daily temperature has dropped below freezing, and it looks like the actual inflection date was November 7th. Effectively, that’s when freezing became the fashion, rather than the fad. In the week before that, average temps were right around 0°C, except for a mild Sunday on November 4.

Sunday, November 4. The pond by the Scenic Nook trail on Tunnel Island had mostly frozen over.

On Wednesday the 7th, the daily average dropped to -4°C, and in the following week it went as low as -9.5°C.

Same pond a few days later

The forecast calls for fairly consistent low temperatures in the next weeks, and let’s face it, we’re not going to start any serious melting in December. Remember, we’re talking about daily averages here, not daytime highs.

In summary, we’re making ice now. North of Red Lake, small lakes have been frozen since about the beginning of November, and on yesterday’s training flight, I saw small bays on Lake of the Woods were icing over. Strong winds were keeping larger areas from freezing, for now.

This time of year, I always see an upsurge in emails and comments asking if I’ll be reporting on ice thickness. Ice fishers want to know! Sorry, I will not. I cannot judge the thickness of ice from an airplane, and I worry that if I report that a certain bay has frozen, people will take that to mean the ice is thick enough to support them safely.

Someone sent this graphic my way. It doesn’t say which Department of Natural Resources, but I think the credit goes to Minnesota. Note the caveat that these guidelines should only be applied to new clear ice.

Have a safe winter.



May 14, 2018: All Clear

I went flying today, and saw no ice on Lake of the Woods. You can click on this picture to view a larger version and zoom in to see for yourself.

In this photo, the nose of the King Air is aimed at Middle Island, with Hay Island to the left, Scotty Island just right of center, and Whiskey Island at the extreme right. The full span of the Barrier Islands is visible in the middle distance, and there’s no sign of the ice that was holding out in that area.

Yesterday’s satellite images were blurred, but some ice was visible. Today’s had some cloud cover, but by comparing two images, I was able to see pretty much the whole lake, and there was no visible ice, so I think even the ice down by Baudette is gone.

So I’m calling it. As of today, Lake of the Woods is ice free. The brick graph gets a magenta block for 2018 to celebrate.

This spring was one of the four latest springs of the sixteen on the graph; behind the curve, but not outrageously so.

To show the timing of the onset and conclusion of the thaw, here’s the finalized version of the floating bar graph. Each year’s bar starts on the Inflection Date (when the daily mean temperature rose above freezing) and ends on the date when the lake was ice free.

Depending on your monitor size and settings, you might want to zoom in on this to read the numbers. In summary, it shows that compared to other recent years, the 2018 thaw got off to a late start and then went fairly fast.

A quick note on other lakes in the region: all lakes in the Kenora, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout and Dryden area are clear of ice, with three exceptions:

  1. Shoal Lake, west of Kenora, still has a large patch of ice.
  2. Trout Lake, east of Red Lake, still has extensive ice.
  3. Lac Seoul, near Sioux Lookout, still has some ice near Kejick Bay.

I’ll be wrapping up the Ice Patrol for the season in the next few days. Thanks to everyone who visited this year- I had record traffic!

Special thanks to all who contributed with photos, comments or emails.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of my co-workers at MAG Canada.


May 11, 2018: Remnants Persist

Yesterday I said the weak ice between Scotty Island and Whiskey Island would be gone overnight. Wrong! Garry Hawryluk passed overhead on a WestJet flight at 6:00 this morning, and managed a few pictures at dawn. The light was poor, so I’ve enhanced the contrast on this one to make the ice more visible.

What I like about this photo is it shows the full span of that ice sheet south of the Barrier Islands. But if you look just above the big expanse of ice, you can see that the small patch in the Manitou survived the night. It did dip below freezing last night, but I think a bigger factor was that the wind died out: without wave action, the candled ice did not break up or blow away.

My own nefarious plan was to hold off on taking pictures until this afternoon, so I could say, “it was gone when I looked.” Unfortunately, it was still hanging on at 3:00pm.

This picture is centered on Town Island. Click on it to see a larger image, and click on that to zoom in, and you can see that small pans of ice still persist on the Manitou.

At full magnification, you can also see a boat passing by Lunny’s Island. The water is so smooth you can trace the wake all the way back to the Hades!

This picture shifts over to the left to show more of Bigstone Bay and Hay Island. Zoom in on this one and you can see a tiny forlorn patch of ice clinging to Needle Point, just left of the center of the picture. But the real reason I took this photo is I wanted to show the larger sheet of ice in the distance. The top right corner of the picture shows the area south of East Allie Island, and that big expanse of ice there is still, well, big. It looks set to hold on a bit longer.

Now that the thaw is almost complete, Sean and I are looking forward to finishing up our graphs for 2018.

Here’s Sean’s latest version of the prediction graph.

We reached a Thaw Index of 200 today, which Sean guessed (several weeks ago!) would be enough accumulated heat to melt all our ice. It turned out to be a very good guess, especially for a first attempt. Sean used temperature data from past years to work out a relationship between how cold a winter was and how much warmth it takes to melt the ice. That didn’t give him a magic number, it gave him a range. He still had to choose whether this year’s thaw would be rapid or sluggish. He went with a swiftish prediction, and chose a thaw index of 200 as his best guess. (A thaw index of 200 means that starting on the day the temperature averages above freezing, we add each day’s mean temperature to a total. When it adds up to 200, we hoped to be ice free.) Because it was late in the season, I also felt that the thaw would be fairly rapid, but it looks as if the ice won’t be 100% gone until we climb a bit higher than 200.

Remember, my method in previous years was to take aerial photographs and compare them to my archived pictures, and look for the ice to melt at roughly the same pace as those previous years. In other words, I didn’t even try to factor in the forecast, unless it called for a significant run of good or bad weather.

The trick with using long-term weather forecasts to graph mean temperatures in advance is: they’re forecasts, and they go wrong. This April, forecasts were calling for miserable weather. And they were right, at first. Then as May arrived, we started to get much warmer weather than predicted. Changes to the weather forecast meant changes to the ice-out date, but not to the desired index.

I won’t be flying again until Monday. Will I find any ice at all by then? We’re looking at a warm weekend. I’m guessing not.

May 7, 2018: Tom Stoyka & Dan Zvanovec

First a couple of pictures from a pair of guest contributors, Tom Stoyka and Dan Zvanovec. Tom did the flying, Dan took the pictures. They were flying over the west end of the Manitou, around Brûlé Point yesterday.

This picture looks west, with the tip of Brûlé Point dead center. Above that is Ptarmigan Bay, which looks to be mostly open, but you can see ice further west by Copper Island. In the foreground, by the leading edge of the wing, is a big pan of ice in the west end of the Manitou. These pictures were sized for speedy emailing, so you cannot click on them to see a high-resolution version.

This is a closer look at the same area. Brûlé Point is at the very top right corner above the wingtip, and the land in the upper part of the picture is part of the Western Peninsula, including Bluebell Lake at the left edge.

Thanks to Tom Stoyka and Dan Zvanovec for these photographs, and to Karen Loewen, who got Dan’s permission and sent them to me.

Next up, the latest graph from Sean C.

We’re still making rapid progress, warming up almost as fast as 2007, and staying on track to be 100% ice-free by May 11. That’s a full week better than I expected back in mid-April.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about one of Kenora’s best kept secrets. As an author, it bothers me that so many people don’t know we have a local independent bookstore.

Elizabeth Campbell Books is on Main Street, right next door to the Plaza Restaurant.

Elizabeth is a stellar supporter of local authors like me.

If my brand of girl-power science fiction isn’t your cup of tea, she’s got non-fiction as well as fiction, plus art and photography books, kid’s books and indigenous art.

Want to read about Kenora’s infamous bank bombing? The Devil’s Gap by Joe Ralko tells the story of Canada’s first suicide bomber. Bush Flying Captured features the splendid aircraft photography of Rich Hulina. Local history? Community Ties by Kathy Toivonen and Kim Manduca explores the railways of Northwestern Ontario.

There are many more great titles that I couldn’t list here.

She also has whole rooms full of used books perfect for the cottage or the trip to and from it, so don’t hesitate to look beyond the front showroom.

I hope to have more new pictures tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve updated the satellite links, and added a new one. I haven’t had much time to play with it yet, but Kevin Weber sent me a link to the NASA site that shows the MODIS pictures. In these images, the view of Lake of the Woods is at an angle from the south.

Summary: some Lake Dwellers will be able to reach their camps near Kenora already, and more of the lake will be opening up every day. Keep an eye on the comments section for reports from active boaters.



May 4, 2018: Updated Graph

I’m out of town for the weekend, so no new pictures, but I did get an updated graph from Sean.


The actual daily mean recorded by Environment Canada is  is shown as the string of blue dots. Notice how close it is to the yellow line, which is Sean’s prediction based on the weather forecast. Nailed it!

That means we’re staying on track for a fast thaw, and if we keep it up for another week, we’ll be ice free!

A note on how this prediction works: Sean starts his graph on the day when the average temperature (daily mean) goes above freezing for the season. False starts in March don’t count, so that happened on April 17 this year.  Then he looks back at how cold the winter was to get an idea how thick the ice is, and he uses data from years with similar winters to estimate how many warm days we’ll need to melt it.

This year, he estimated we’d need a “thaw index” of 200. Last Sunday, when we hit 25 degrees, we had a mean temperature of 16, so he adds 16 points towards our target. On Tuesday, we had a cold day, and only managed to add two and a half points.

The initial guess, based on an old mid-April forecast that turned out to be pessimistic, (dashed yellow line) was that we’d rack up the desired index of 200 by May 18. That’s reasonable: one month to go from above freezing to fully thawed is realistic for a late spring.

The fastest spring thaw in recent years was 2007, and is represented by the red line on the graph. It took just three weeks. The weather forecast we had in April didn’t look that promising.

But now we are getting close to having a thaw that fast! Sean’s revised estimate, worked out when the May forecast called for warmer temperatures, is that we might be ice free by May 11. That would be 24 days, compared to 20 in 2007. That’s still a forecast, not a guarantee, but we’re staying on track so far.

The Victoria Day weekend is no longer in jeopardy, and we have a good chance of the lake being entirely open for next weekend.

Boat access to islands close to Kenora, such as Town Island and Scotty Island, should now be just days away.

May 1, 2018: Good News!

It seems as if our recent warm weather should be moving us towards an earlier thaw. But by how much? My gut feeling was that three very warm days should advance the ice-out date by about three days, but I’ve been holding to my estimate of May 15-18 until I could get better analysis. That arrived today, from Sean C.

His newest graph shows what rapid progress we’ve made, and that the latest weather forecast suggests a faster melt will continue. If your browser has shrunk the graph to fit your screen, you can click on the graph to see it at full size.

Here’s a summary for anyone who doesn’t remember, or didn’t see the old graph: the steep red line represents a really fast thaw (2007), while the green line shows a sluggish spring (2004).

The general idea is we need enough warm weather to melt the winter’s ice. For a cold winter like we just had, we need a thawing index of about 200, marked by the horizontal dotted red line.

The blue dots represent our actual progress towards that target, based on our recorded daily mean temperatures. You can see that we’ve been piling on the warm days, almost matching the red line.

The dotted yellow line is Sean’s old forecast from the previous version of this graph. It’s based on the long-term weather forecast we had in mid-April. He used the forecast high and low to estimate the daily mean temperature as halfway in between, and plotted a prediction based on that.

The solid yellow line is Sean’s new prediction for daily mean temperatures based on the latest forecast. You can even see how today’s cool, cloudy weather set us back a little: look how the yellow line drifts away from the red after the last blue dot.

Sean looked back at the actual highs and lows recorded each day and compared them to the mean temperatures calculated by Environment Canada after the fact, and he’s learned the mean is likely to be a degree or two warmer than the midpoint. He’s revised his new yellow line accordingly.

As we get into May, we’re not using such long-term forecasts as we were two weeks ago; Sean can now work mostly from the fourteen-day outlook. The newest forecasts are milder, so overall, the outlook is quite a bit better.

Sean’s new track shows us thawing by May 11. That sounds about right to me.* Remember, we’re talking about 100% ice-free on Lake of the Woods. Your favourite island may be reachable before that date.

*Sean’s graph is temperature oriented, but we could still have variations in humidity, wind and sunshine that could speed things up or slow them down. I like to give a range, so I’m hedging my bets and saying May 10-15.


April 26, 2018: A Pretty Picture

I went flying before sunrise this morning, and came home to land at eight o’clock in the morning, just as a layer of cloud was breaking up. The lake looked beautiful.

To help you get oriented, Scotty Island is above the center of this picture that looks south west. Zoom in and you can see the beach. Burley Island and Queen Bee Island are in the left foreground.

This second shot is centered on Channel Island, with Leisure Island just in front of the aircraft’s nose. That patchy lighting from morning sun shining through a scattered cloud layer is pretty, but it makes it hard to tell water from ice. Clicking on the picture to see  it in higher resolution will help. Keewatin Channel is almost wide open to a point south of Shragge’s Island, and that patch of open water at the bottom right corner extends nearly to Billygoat Island.

One last photograph as we turned to line up with the airport.

Looking north toward Coney Island, with Devil’s Gap Marina near the middle of the picture, and Golf Course Bay at the right. Off the wingtip, water is pushing from Devil’s Gap out past Johnson Island and Goat Island.

Despite an overnight low slightly below freezing, the ice continues to deteriorate rapidly. Most of the ice is very dark now, which means not only is the snow cover gone, but also that water is seeping into the ice through fine cracks.

I wrote to Sean, the guy that makes graphs based on the mean temperature and thawing index, to ask if the visible changes are apparent in the data. He sent this.

This is an updated version of a graph he created last weekend. The steep red line represents a very fast thaw from 2007. If we could match it, we’d have an ice out around May 8, but that’s kind of a best case scenario. The green line uses data from a much colder, slower spring in 2004. (It would have taken a long time to melt thick ice that year.) More realistically, the yellow line is our forecast weather. Sean reckons we’ll need a thawing index of about 200 to melt the thick ice that formed over our cold winter, and the forecast takes us to that point around May 18th. The blue dots represent our actual progress this year. For now, we’re managing to stay close to the fast track.

As we head into the weekend, I’m looking forward to photographs from guest contributor and pilot Andrew Kozlowski tomorrow. Weather permitting—it might be blustery and showery—he’ll try to take pictures of Clearwater Bay and a few other areas.