May 14, 2022: Courtesy of MAG Canada

Early this morning, I received two photos from Jared Cantor. He took them yesterday morning from an airliner on the way from Toronto to Winnipeg. Jared was sitting on the left side of the plane, so his window seat looked south. Here’s what he saw from about 30,000 feet.

Click on these pictures to enlarge them.

Bigsby Island, Big Island and Big Traverse.

Everything’s big on this end of the lake. Above and left of centre are slender Pine Island and Sable Island,  Four Mile Bay, and the mouth of the Rainy River. The patch of ice is near Long Point.

Big Traverse, Buffalo Bay, Buffalo Point, Muskeg Bay, and Warroad, Minnesota.

In this second view from a minute or two later, the right side of the frame shows the view south across Buffalo Bay to Buffalo Point. Beyond that is Muskeg Bay and Warroad, Minnesota. The big patch of ‘land’ in the middle of the picture is actually another expanse of ice.

Thanks, Jared!

The photos above were omitted from the first version of this post. I meant to include them but lost track.

Knowing where we stood yesterday, I was very eager to go flying today. I knew there couldn’t be much ice left. I wanted to see what there was, to get the best idea of when the last of it will be gone.

So I called my old friends at MAG Canada to see if I could book a short flight. They wouldn’t take my money. They insisted on giving me a free flight for old time’s sake. I always knew that the company supported me and Ice Patrol on a local level, but I was touched to hear that this was supported by the head office. Thanks, Mark!

So I met up with Andy Zabloski at the hangar, and we went for a short tour. I wanted to head down towards Sioux Narrows, because I haven’t had any pictures from that direction recently.

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

Bigstone Bay. Sultana Island and Quarry Island are in the middle of the picture.

The first thing we noticed was that there was no ice at all left in Bigstone Bay. Sometimes Heenan Point or Needle point will trap some late ice, but not today. All the bays in this area are completely ice-free.

We had set off to look at Andrew Bay, Witch Bay and so on, but we couldn’t find any ice in that region at all, so we turned towards areas more likely to have late ice.

The first ice we did see was in the Manitou.

The Manitou. Bare Point in the foreground, Town Island in the middle.

There is ice here, but not very much. It’s hugging the shore of Wolf Island and Hare Island.

Here’s what it looks like from Devon Ostir’s dock cam on Hare Island.

He’s promised to send me an update when his shore is clear of ice. Thanks, Devon!

Now back to our flight. There’s usually late ice south of the Barrier Islands, but we didn’t see anything obvious, so we went further south to see if we could spot any at the south end of the lake.

Cliff Island and the Alneau Peninsula. Little Traverse is in the distance.

It was a long way away, and the patchy light from a broken cloud layer makes it hard to be certain, but I think there’s some ice down by Bay Island, in the Little Traverse.

Next we turned north to take a closer look at the Barrier Islands.

The Barrier Islands.

We had missed it at first glance, because it’s not a big sheet, but there’s some ice against the south shore of Shammis Island, very near the centre of this picture. Zoom in to see it, and the larger area of ice in the Manitou that we saw before.

The Manitou also has another ice remnant around Wolf Island.

Wolf Island, Welcome Channel, Thompson Island, Holmstrom’s Marsh.

There’s still some soft pan ice drifting in this area. In this picture, it’s right by the propeller blade, near Houghs Island, but it’s probably on the move.

We got a nice shot of the Scotty Island to Hay Island area.

Scotty Island, Middle Island, The Hades and Hay Island.

We found no ice at all in this area, and that also includes Slate Island, Railway Island, Queer Island and Square Island.

That concluded our look at the ice on Lake of the Woods. In short, we found almost none. If it’s not gone tonight, it certainly will be by Monday morning.

Here’s a picture from Kelly Belair, showing what some of the ice looks like when it piles up on a reef. This was taken near Rocky Point at about mid-day today. He says the picture doesn’t do it justice.

Ice pile by Rocky Point.

By the way, ice remnants are not the only boating hazard right now. Because of the high water levels, there are lots of deadheads and debris in the water. Parts from damaged docks and cribs have been reported.

All marinas should be operable now, but they’ll have a lot of catching up to do.

One last picture from our flight. As we were circling to return to the airport, we flew over Upper Black Sturgeon Lake. Water levels are up there, because the Winnipeg River is so high that it’s flowing into the Black Sturgeon Lakes, instead of the other way around. This was apparently an overstatement. River levels are high enough that the Black Sturgeon Lakes are not draining normally, but I heard recently that the rollers are still above water, so the river is not actually higher than the lakes. At least, not yet.

Beauty Bay Golf Course.

As just one example of how bad it is, the water is lapping at the clubhouse of the Beauty Bay Golf Course. The front parking lot and dock area (near the middle of this picture) are submerged.

So a special thanks to Andy and my old colleagues at MAG for this farewell flight. I got to ride one more time in GTWW, a plane I flew for thirty-two years and (checks logbook) over 5000 hours. Sad sniff.

Signs of spring:

My dog found a bee today.

Motorhomes and campers. Boat Trailers. Generally heavy traffic. Potholes with a capital P.

Ice Patrol will be wrapping up for the year soon. We’ll try to establish the actual date the ice was all gone, and we’ll update the graphs accordingly. I’m still hoping for a nice satellite image of an ice-free lake to round things off.

If you found Ice Patrol valuable this year, let me just mention that I did insert a donations form back in March. It uses the services of Stripe, and works in US dollars. Traffic is way up since March, so here’s a link to it, in case you missed it, and feel like it. The form is at the bottom of this post from March 16. Every donation is appreciated, but there’s no obligation. It’s entirely up to you.

 

May 13, 2022: Forecast Friday

Soon, the ice-out date will be history, and not a matter for forecasts.

But while we still have a little ice left, here’s Sean’s last take on it for this year.

Remember, you can click on this graph to see it large and sharp.

Lake of the Woods Thaw Forecast.

This year’s temperature profile (the blue line) runs parallel to the best case example from 2007 (the red line). Since last week, Sean has updated the path of the blue line to replace forecast temperatures with actual ones up to the present.

His conclusion? Based on temperatures, the lake should be entirely ice-free in the evening of May 17th.

Temperatures are not the only factor in play, though, so there’s still some wiggle room for wind and high humidity to get rid of the ice even faster. Certainly it is very windy today. I think it’s possible that the ice might be gone a day or so earlier than the temperatures suggest.

In the meantime, although there is still ice present, many people will be able to reach their cottages by boat already. For those who cannot, yet, it is only a matter of days.

Satellite imagery is a bit of a tease lately, because of cloud. Yesterday, Terra satellite was able to see only the south west corner of the lake. Today, Aqua got a look at only the east side. In both cases, there was no significant ice visible, but we’re reaching the stage where it would be hard to spot from space.

Lake levels continue to rise. Water is flowing into Lake of the Woods faster than it can be let out. Sean calculates that the surplus amounts to an olympic-sized swimming pool’s worth of water every second and a half. That would raise the lake by an inch and a quarter every day. If that continued for a week, it would come to another fifteen inches, but nobody knows exactly how long the inflow will remain so high.

As mentioned on Ice Patrol yesterday, the water level of the Winnipeg River is so high that it’s raising the water level in and around the Black Sturgeon Lakes. That’s washed out a number of roads, and resulted in an evacuation order for a lot of people that live north of the Kenora Bypass. The evacuees will have a narrow window to get out. The City of Kenora Works Department is attempting to re-open one route with heavy equipment, and they think they can keep that road passable for four hours this afternoon. After that, the floodwaters will close off all the ways out.

You can read more–and see a map of the affected area–at Kenora Online.

 

 

 

May 12, 2022: It’s All Going

I wasn’t expecting pictures today because of the heavy rainfall warning. But the weather has been better than expected so far, and I received three great sets.

Before we start with the pictures, the comments form is overflowing with people reporting that various places are open, or opening fast.

Let’s back those assertions up with some evidence. First up, aerial photos from James Hendy at River Air. He’s another of my former colleagues from decades ago.

You can click on these pictures to see larger versions that reveal more detail.

James started at Poplar Bay.

Poplar Bay.

It’s partly open, but there’s ice at the south end. Let’s take a closer look.

Poplar Bay, Welcome Channel, Wolf Island, Hare Island.

Next, James cruised out to the Manitou. The first view looks roughly south.

 

The Manitou. Whisky Island at the right, Barrier Islands in the distance.

Still ice here, and the ice roads haven’t broken apart yet. The Manitou is one of the last places to let go, but once things reach this stage of soft ice, it’s very vulnerable to wind.

Looking more to the south west shows the western stretch of the Manitou.

West Manitou. Crow Rock Island at the upper centre.

Then back towards Kenora. The ability to reach Scotty Island is a key milestone in boat access.

 

Scotty Island in the distance.

I’ve heard from BB Camps that Town Island is accessible, and it looks like you can make it to Scotty Island now. More about the beach there, later.

Thanks, James!

Our second set of photos come from contributor Scott Benson.

Over Sugar Bay looking east down Clearwater Bay. It’s open water west of here. Frozen east and south.

Scotty’s beach in foreground looking east over Bigstone Bay.

That beach is looking pretty waterlogged. I like the little cluster of ice-road fragments, though.

Looking north over Shammis Island where the main ice road crosses. This area of the lake is 90+% ice at this point.

I’ve said it before, but the ice roads are the last things to let go. This broken one shows how close we are to total ice-out.

Over Ash Bay looking east at the grouping of islands including S Island and north up Corkscrew Channel. Open around S island and frozen to the east towards Whiskey island.

There’s still quite a lot of ice out there, but it’s almost all candled. Basically it’s just fancy ice cubes (well, hexagons, actually) floating around and keeping each other company.

Just west of Victoria Island looking north at Mud Portage, and Woodchuck/Deception bays in the distance. Woodchuck and Deception are ice free.

Over the entrance to Echo bay looking east down Ptarmigan Bay, Zig Zag island in the center. Ice free north of Zig Zag island.

Looking south east at Echo Bay. About 1/2 open water.

West Hawk Lake. This ice has been pushed around by the wind for the past 3 days and won’t last long.

I have had at least one report that West Hawk Lake is wide open. Consider that if an observer was standing on the far shore, they would not be able to see this ice remnant on the west side.

Looking south over Shoal Lake. Some areas open (maybe 5-10%) ice in the middle looks white, the strongest ice I spotted today.

Oh, good. I just had someone asking about Shoal Lake. Typically, Shoal Lake’s ice lasts a few days longer than it does on Lake of the Woods. There’s a pretty big pan there, but I don’t think it will last through the weekend.

Scott was kind enough to write captions for his pictures, saving me a lot of work. Thanks, Scott!

But wait, there’s more.

Here’s a picture  of the ice at Clearwater Bay from Brendon Thiessen that came in while I was writing this post.

This was taken at 2pm today (12/05/2022). Looking Northwest from Big Duck Island toward Sugar Bay.

Brendon was using a drone to check on his docks, (they’re fine) and sent me this to show the ice. Thanks, Brendon!

I’ll finish with a set of aerial photos from MAG Canada’s Justin Martin.

We’ll start with Northern Harbour, because I’ve been curious about it for a  couple of days.

Pine Portage Bay, Sultana Island and Bald Indian Bay.

There’s water around the docks now, but before you phone Northern Harbour, take note that there’s not actually a clear route out of Pine Portage Bay yet.

From Bare Point, Looking west towards Treaty Island.

It looks as if you could take a boat out through Devil’s Gap now. There’s still a lot of pan ice, though, so you’d want to be careful not to get trapped.

Middle Island and Scotty Island.

The same applies if you try to go beyond Scotty Island. Large pans of ice, moving around because of wind and current. South of the Barrier Islands, those sheets are massive. We’ll take a closer look in a minute.

But first, Corkscrew Island, Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater Bay.

 

Corkscrew Island, looking west towards Zigzag Island.

Now the Barrier Islands, and the huge ice sheet south of them.

East Allie Island and Allie Island, looking over those Barrier Islands at the ice to the south.

Most years, that ice covered area is the last to go. Small pans of this may survive for several more days.

Thanks for these, Justin!

This last shot from Justin is a little different.

Judging by the Kenora Airport in the background, this is the Essex Road. As you can see, a lengthy stretch of it is underwater.

This is not the only road in the region to be flooded or washed out. The problem in this location is that the Winnipeg River is now higher than the Black Sturgeon Lakes, causing their water levels to rise.

It’s raining as I write this, and we have another heavy rainfall warning, so water levels in the whole drainage basin of Lake of the Woods are sure to continue rising.

As far as the ice is concerned, it’s melting everywhere, and it’s melting fast. It won’t be long now.

 

 

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 30, 2022: Satellite Saturday

Well, it’s raining again. We’re setting records for April precipitation as I write this.

That means the last couple of days haven’t been good for satellite photos, but we got an exceptionally good look at the lake on Wednesday. Sentinel 2 is a European Space Agency satellite that takes high resolution pictures. It doesn’t come our way every day, and when it does, it often images only part of the lake because of it’s narrow field of view.

But on Wednesday, everything aligned.

You can click on these pictures to see them at higher resolution!

Sentinel 2 image of Lake of the Woods, in true colour.

Yes, that’s a colour photo. There’s just not a lot of green in our landscape yet.

But if you’d like something a bit more vibrant, Sentinel 2 also offers a short-wave infrared option.

Sentinel 2 image of Lake of the Woods, in short-wave infrared.

Note the scale (5km) in the bottom right corner. But wait, there’s more good news. This satellite can show more detail than this. I can’t upload a picture of the whole lake at the highest resolution; the file is too big. But I can zoom in for a better look at the north part of the lake, and upload that.

Don’t forget to click on these images to see the full-screen version. Click on that to see the picture’s full resolution.

Sentinel 2 image of the northern part of Lake of the Woods in short-wave infrared.

So on this image, I thought I noticed something. In a recent aerial photo from Tom Hutton, taken the same day, you could see rotten ice south of the Keewatin Channel, extending past Town Island towards Scotty.

Let’s zoom in even tighter on that area, to a 1km scale.

Sentinel 2 image of the Wendigo and Bigstone Bay in short-wave infrared.

Now we can clearly see the dark blotches of softening ice, extending from the open water in Keewatin Channel and Second Channel at the upper left, towards Scotty Island near the middle of the frame.

This is the ice that I expect to yield next.

It’s also worth noting that there are multiple tiny patches of water visible in the vicinity of Middle Island, at Eagle Pass at the east end of Hay Island, and near Railroad Island, south of Hay.

Rapidly rising lake levels, and more importantly, the increasing outflows through the Norman Dam* that the rising water necessitates, should help to erode more ice, starting in these areas with significant currents.

*The Lake of the Woods Control Board strives to keep the lake levels within specified limits. A month ago, the lake was pretty low. Multiple Colorado lows have dumped a lot of first snow, and then rain in the lake’s drainage basin. The board reports that the average lake level has been rising by over an inch a day, (25cm in a week) and will continue at close to that rate for several more days. In the meantime, outflow through the dam has gone from 450 cubic metres per second three weeks ago to more than double that, at 925. Fun fact: a cubic metre of fresh water masses one tonne.

So enjoy the rain!