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 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 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 8, 2022: Satellite Sunday?

Not really. These pictures are from Saturday the 7th, but they missed the deadline for getting posted yesterday.

The good news is, we got a solid pass from Sentinel 2 yesterday. This ESA satellite has a narrow field of view, so it doesn’t often image all of Lake of the Woods*. But when it does, the resolution is a dream.

*For broad coverage, the MODIS cameras on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites are better, and they pass overhead every day. But their images of Lake of the Woods are small, and cannot be enlarged.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 7, 2022, in false colour.

This is a MODIS image from yesterday. The cloud cover is different from the pictures below because Terra and Sentinel 2 made their passes some hours apart.

 

Let’s start with Sentinel 2‘s view of the whole lake, in Short-wave Infrared. You can enlarge this image by clicking on it to see it full screen.

Sentinel 2 image of Lake of the Woods in Short-wave Infrared, May 7, 2022.

I don’t know if the SWIR version of a Sentinel 2 image is directly comparable to a MODIS false-colour image, but it’s very similar.

It’s very clear that ice quality is now deteriorating fast all over Lake of the Woods.

There was cloud in the northern parts of the lake yesterday, spoiling Sentinel 2’s view, so let’s take the opportunity to take a closer look at the south half of the lake, which I seldom get good images of. [It’s too much of a detour for a Kenora-based flight.] Shots of Morson and Sabaskong Bay are regrettably rare.

You can click on the following images to see them full-screen and zoomable.

Southern portion of Lake of the Woods, at higher magnification.

This is from the same image, but zoomed in even more. Click on it and enlarge it all the way to see a lot of detail. I had to cut it off just north of Big Narrows to keep the file size below the 3GB limit set by WordPress. Even then, it took me two tries to upload it to their server.

As I was preparing this post, Terry and Mary James used the comment box to ask about whether their interpretation of what the MODIS images showed at Roughrock Lake was correct.

So l’m going to show them (and you) what Sentinel 2 can really do! Note the scale at the bottom right corner. 1km is about as tight as it will go. You can try to enlarge it further, but the image gets fuzzier.

Roughrock Lake, Big Sand Lake, Little Sand Lake.

Also, this timely comment from Bargeman, via email:

I live in Minaki and have had a boat in for the last week. My wife and I broke up the last bit of ice in the middle of Little Sand Lake to Rough Rock Narrows on Thursday. So the river is open from dam to dam. This has been the quickest opening (from looking very dubious about ice being gone by May long) I can remember. The water rising creating cracks everywhere around the shorelines combined with the strong current has increased open water way quicker….thank goodness. We have Sand Lake Outpost on Big Sand Lake at it is looking like our long weekend guests will be able to stay at our place on Deadman’s Island, just north of Harbour Island.

Hope this answers your question, Terry!

So while I’m at it, let’s see if I can find something for Pete Giroux. He has a place on the Manitou Stretch, east of Lake of the Woods.

East of Sioux Narrows and Highway 71.

I think you’re in luck, Pete: this is right at the eastern edge of Sentinel 2’s latest swath.

I was also curious to see how things were looking further north, up by Red Lake and Trout Lake, but that area was covered with cloud.

Recent warm–and now moist–weather are moving things along very quickly. I tried take a look back at 2014, which was the last time we had such a late thaw. MODIS images are not available for May 6 through 9 because of cloud. The May 5 image shows only a little of the lake, and the May 10 image is blurry, but I think I can say we’re pulling ahead of spring 2014.

Aerial photos I took at around these dates in 2014 were shot in rainy weather, and are hard to make out, but I think they also show we’re doing better.

That would be good, because the lake wasn’t entirely clear until May 21 that year.

I’m confident we’re on track to keep up with Sean’s recent prediction of May 18, and since the weather has been warmer than the forecast he was working with, he may be able revise his graphs again next week.

Keep in mind that when we talk about ice-out on Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol, we mean the whole lake, entirely free of ice. Significant areas are opening to boat traffic every day, and things will be improving daily. One of the bottlenecks we face right now is a lack of  Marina access. Northern Harbour is situated on deep water, and is still iced in. Two Bears Marina, in Keewatin, has soft ice all around their docks and were not operating yet when I stopped by yesterday. Devil’s Gap Marina might have enough water to launch boats, but their open water doesn’t reach very far yet.

I haven’t surveyed a full list of marinas, but if you’re a marina operator, and you have news, feel free to use the comments form on the ABOUT page to let us know how things are shaping up for you. Are you launching yet, or opening soon?

Do you have friends who would want to follow Ice Patrol? I often get emails from people asking to get on the list. THERE IS NO LIST! To follow Ice Patrol and get the emails, visit the Ice Patrol home page and look for the FOLLOW button at the right side. Click it, and you’ll get an email every time I post a new article. If you change your mind, visit again and simply UNFOLLOW.

However, those emails do not tell the whole story. For one thing, if I update a post, a new email does not go out. If you want more, including updates, comments, links, access to archives and satellite images, and an FAQ page that is helpful to new users, visit the actual website.

To ensure that you see updates, use the refresh button on your browser to reload the page.

The emails are timely and keep you updated, but the website is the real thing.

 

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 24, 2022: Drone Shots

Another week, another storm. It hasn’t been good weather for flying, and the satellites haven’t seen much of us either. But the low clouds parted enough to let Paul Leischow get his drone aloft this afternoon. For fun, he threw in a matching photo from one year ago today.

Clicking on this pair of pictures will take you to Paul’s latest drone panorama.

Cameron Island, then and now. Looking north, with Mackies Island on the left, the east end of Coney Island  at the right, and Keewatin Bridge in the distance.

The upper frame shows a lot of greyish ice, because this weekend’s rain washed away a lot of snow cover. I know, because I’ve been pumping it out of my basement.

Which would be good news, but the storm will end with a return to unseasonably cold weather. Overnight we can expect the temperature to drop to -7°C, and any further precipitation will be switching to snow. (We wouldn’t want to run out of snow.) Monday will be unusually cold, with a daytime high of -5°C and an overnight low of about -9°C.

That  -9°C will equal the record low for April 25, set in 2002.  For perspective, Environment Canada gives average temperatures for April 25th as a high of 12°C and a low of 1°.

We might see Mean Daily Temperatures rise above zero by Wednesday, giving us an Inflection Date of April 27th. That would be the worst in my records, edging out 2013, when temperatures rose and fell and we didn’t call inflection until April 26th. As far as wishing for some above-average temperatures this month, there’s not much hope. The 29th might come close, and then we might see more normal temperatures by around May 4th or 5th. That’s around the date when the lake is entirely ice-free most years.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be one of the latest thaws in recent history.

Most marinas are still ice-locked. Not that there’s anywhere to go boating to. However, Tom Taylor says he heard that at Clearwater Bay, “water is gushing in from the Rockeries Marina culvert, and that [water at] the marina is open all the way to the public boat launch.” Can anyone confirm this?

Update on Rockeries Marina, courtesy of Jeff Byckal, via the comments form. Thanks, Jeff.

Signs of spring: I saw fresh bear tracks on Tunnel Island today. Be bear aware.

Oh, and I spotted a Florida licence plate in town a day or so ago. I thought to myself: must not be an Ice Patrol follower.

 

 

April 16, 2021: New Aerials / Big Changes

A week of cloud and snow has left us all wondering what’s happening on the lake. But poor flying weather and cloud cover that blocked the satellites from seeing anything left us all in the dark. Until yesterday.

First, it cleared up enough yesterday afternoon that NASA’s Aqua satellite managed to image most of Lake of the Woods.

If you click on this picture, you’ll see a version with some landmarks tagged.

Aqua satellite’s image from April 15, 2021, in false colour.

There are clearly areas of ice on Shoal Lake, and both north and south of the Barrier Islands. Closer to Kenora, cloud cover makes it hard to be confident, but it looks like mostly open water. The south end of the lake looks completely clear. This is possible, it was down to free-floating sheets of ice five days ago, and that stuff is very vulnerable to wind action.

Let’s follow up with some aerial photography to get a more detailed picture of how it’s going. My friend Quinn Wilson was out for a training flight in one of the MAG Canada fire detection planes, a Cessna 337. He took these pictures on Thursday afternoon.

If you click on these pictures, you’ll see a larger full screen version.

Bigstone Bay, Hay Island.

In this shot, the camera is pointing south across Bigstone Bay at Hay Island. Interestingly, the east end of the bay is mostly water, but there are extensive ice sheets west of Copper Island. In the distance, Moore Bay appears open, but Andrew Bay and everything further south look icy.

Pine Portage Bay.

From the other side of the plane, Pine Portage Bay, home of Northern Harbour. The marina is just visible at the right edge.

Town Island, Keewatin Channel, Second Channel, The Tangle.

Looking north. Town Island is at the lower right, and the picture is roughly centered on Shragge’s Island. It looks like the water is open from Kenora all the way to Leisure Island now.

The Manitou.

In the other direction, the Manitou is still covered in ice. I don’t know the name of the island in the foreground; it’s next door to Hough’s. Whiskey Island is at the right, and the Barrier Islands are in the distance.

Welcome Channel.

Welcome Channel is still frozen over, but the shorelines are starting to let go.

Poplar Bay.

The strange track-like feature is just a reflection of the upholstery stitching in side the plane.

Abbott Island, Cross Island, Turnbull Island, Rheault Bay.

West of Keewatin, there’s still pan ice close to town.

Crowe Island, Anglican Island Channel Island, Shragges Island, Keewatin Channel, Second Channel, Canoe Channel.

As you can see, this area is open except for where the ice roads ran, but there’s still plenty of ice further out on the lake. Quinn says all that ice looks poor, though. Thanks, Quinn!

Only days now until the lake is fully open.

I’ve got more photos coming in, taken this morning, but while I receive them and sort them out, I’ll put this batch up for people to see.

I’ll put the newest photos up in a separate post later today.

 

April 27, 2020: Jason Duguay / Sean Cockrem

Here are the latest pictures from Jason Duguay, taken from the ORNGE helicopter yesterday.

You can click on these pictures to see them full-screen and zoomable. That’s worth doing, by the way: you can get a much better idea of the condition of the ice, even in the distance.

Devil’s Gap, with Goat Island and Johnson Island sitting at the edge of the ice.

Rat Portage Bay, with Gun Club Island in the middle.

West end of Coney Island, and the Yacht Club end of Keewatin Channel.

I’ve been asked about predictions. There are two ways we can do this: science, and history.

Let’s start with Sean Cockrem, who does the science.

To recap, Sean gauges how cold the winter was by totalling up the mean daily temperatures for all the days where the mean was below freezing. That gives him an idea of how the ice thickness might compare to recent winters. Based on other winters, he calculates how many warm days we might need to thaw that amount of ice. Then he goes to the long-term weather forecast (which has let us down before) to try and work out an approximate date when we should accumulate enough heat to melt all the ice.

We had a warm spell in late March, and it looked as if the thaw might be under way. Then the first three weeks of April were miserably cold. Not just below average, but mostly below freezing, and sometimes way below. If we melted a little ice in the afternoon, we refroze it overnight. So Sean’s original interpretation that we could say the inflection date–when the mean daily temperature rose to be consistently above freezing–could be pegged at March 26, had to be revised. By nearly a month! We finally turned the corner on April 22nd.

You can click on the graphs to see them larger and full-screen.

Here’s a graph that compares the severity of the last few winters.

Each winter is depicted as a downward spike. The colder the winter, the deeper the spike. And the longer the winter, the wider the spike. Last winter, at the right hand side of the graph, was not terribly cold, but you can see how it dragged on, and right at the tip of the spike is our nasty little cold snap, shaped like a little claw.

Okay, so we know what kind of winter it was. What can that tell us about the thaw?

On this graph, the lines all begin on the inflection date, but the dates shown are for this year. The idea is to show how 2020 compares to the best and worst years if you line them all up at the starting gate.

The blue line is 2020, with dots for each day’s actual mean temperature. Looking ahead, the yellow line shows how it will go if the weather forecast comes true.

Part of this prediction is an educated guess. Because we know late springs tend to melt faster than early ones, Sean chose a thaw index that takes into account longer sunnier days, instead of just blindly applying the same mathematical formula. His tentative conclusion? We still need about three weeks to get the lake entirely ice free, and we should make it just in time for the May long weekend, which is early this year, at mid-month.

Before I had Sean crunching numbers, I made predictions in a rather simpler way: I looked through my archives to find pictures that showed a similar extent of ice, and then I checked to see how long it took to melt that time.

You can do this yourself, if you like. There’s an archive tool on the Ice Patrol website that lets you look through the previous several years month by month. I have pictures from April 25th from both 2018 and 2019, and it looks as if this year is kind of in between, but roughly the same.

Here’s what I call the “Jenga Graph” it shows a stack of sticks, with each one representing a thaw starting on the inflection date and ending on the day the lake was 100% ice free. The most recent years are at the top, and 2020 is pale blue because it’s just a guess.

This graph reveals that we really did get a late start on the thaw this year. Of all the years since 2008, only 2013 had a later inflection date than 2020. That doesn’t have to mean the ice will last longer, though. Although the ice has been reluctant to melt, it was not very thick this year.

So it looks as if Sean and I agree pretty much to the day. That doesn’t mean we’ll be right, of course! We’ve been wrong before. Sigh. Almost always.

Sign of spring: the snow sculptures on the harbourfront have finally melted completely. Ice is out on Kenora Bay.

Just like every year, the lake will melt. Unlike other years, we may not be able to enjoy it much. Until restrictions for the pandemic begin to lift, very few of us will be able to get out there. Even when things start to improve, some form of physical distancing will probably still be necessary. Large gatherings will have to wait. I don’t think we’ll be tying our boats together, or sharing drinks from a common cooler, anytime soon.

Be strong. Be patient. Be healthy.

 

 

April 18, 2020: Cold April / Josh Broten / Satellite Saturday

It’s been quite cool since I last posted an update, with some recent overnight lows dipping to the -12 to -16ºC range. Those were the worst nights, but daytime highs have rarely reached seasonal norms.

On Tunnel Island, fresh ice formed on the duck pond every night, and retreated each afternoon. It hasn’t been ice-free yet.

Over the last weeks, typical temperatures for this time of year would be highs of about 9ºC paired with lows just below freezing. In the later weeks of April, those average highs rise a few degrees.

Friday was supposed to be the warmest day in a while, and it still fell short of normal.

As for the rest of the month, there aren’t any warm spells forecast, just a string of almost normal temperatures.

Signs of spring: gnats are out. I inhaled one today. But it’s still not warm enough to take the winter tires off.

Here are some aerial photos from regular contributor Josh Broten. He’s based out of Rosseau, MN, so he takes pictures at the south west corner of the lake.

This one shows the condition of the ice at the south end of the lake. You can see it’s rotten, candling, and has patches of surface water.

You can click on Josh’s pictures to see them full-screen and zoomable to full resolution.

This is the Northwest Angle, looking north with Shoal Lake in the background. Josh says he doesn’t see any water on Shoal yet.

Here’s Josh’s look north east at Big Narrows, Tranquil Channel and French Portage Narrows.  Most of what you see in this picture is Falcon Island. The bay in the foreground with the island that looks like a fidget spinner is Deepwater Bay.

Thanks, Josh.

There haven’t been many good satellite images recently. There were cloudy days and some of the good days had blurred pictures for our area. Here’s one from yesterday.

The satellite images are not zoomable: the resolution is one pixel for a quarter of a square kilometer. If you click on it (if I did it right) you’ll see an archive image with  some features of the lake marked to help you get oriented.

This is from the MODIS camera on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Despite the focus being a bit soft, you can make out the open water at Big Narrows, and you can see that although the ice is still widespread, the condition of it is weakening.

Aside from the cool temperatures, there are other impediments to lake life this season.

This quote from FOCA, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, regarding marinas:

…as reported by our colleagues at Boating Ontario, many marinas are currently not allowing any launches or mooring, and/or are on restricted access for service or repair. While marinas are listed among Ontario’s “essential services” the posting notes “only to the extent that the marina is necessary to enable individuals to access their primary place of residence.” See an April 10, 2020 letter to Boating Ontario from MTO. For links to several postings, visit: https://www.facebook.com/BoatingOntario.ca/

Retail businesses are also transformed. You can only buy limited quantities of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach, and other items in high demand. People wearing masks are becoming a more common sight.

Wal-Mart, Safeway, and the LCBO and others are restricting the number of shoppers in the store, and are doing the one-way traffic thing in the aisles with floor arrows. Many other outlets, such as Canadian Tire and Home Hardware, only allow telephone ordering and pickup.

Kenora has its first confirmed case of Covid-19. The person is said to acquired the virus out of province, and is now self-isolating, having had few contacts.

Sorry to harp on it, but inessential travel is not recommended.

Health authorities say, “Covid season is not cottage season.”