May 16, 2018: Shoal Lake

Just a handful of icy loose ends remain to tidy up. Cloud layers in the Sioux Lookout area prevented me (and the satellites) from seeing Lac Seoul today, but skies were mainly clear when I returned to Kenora this afternoon. I took a look at Shoal Lake from a distance, and I couldn’t see any tell-tale whiteness. Satellite pictures also show it entirely dark now, so I don’t think there’s any ice left. Here’s the false-colour image from Terra Satellite.

The turquoise blur south of the Alneau Peninsula is just thin cloud. Shoal Lake is the vaguely heart-shaped lake in the upper left quarter of the picture.

In the meantime, I’d like to warn you that from the air, I’m seeing extensive “beaches,” not just on Lake of the Woods, but on all the lakes, a sure sign of very low water levels across the region. Please be careful with your boat, I’m already hearing that the marina mechanics are seeing a lot of bottom-end damage coming in. Approach reefs and shorelines, even at your own property, with extra caution this year.

Time for my annual reminder that float planes have the right of way over boats when landing or taking off. Be especially alert around Kenora’s Safety Bay, which is a licenced water aerodrome. Eyes on the skies, please, and check over your shoulder- float planes are fast!

Tomorrow I’ll be flying into Red Lake, so I’ll take a look at Red and Trout Lakes. I expect Red to be clear of ice, but Trout might still have some left. That’ll be about it for the region. Have a great summer!

 

 

May 12, 2018: Satellite Saturday

Ice on Lake of the Woods continues to melt away.

Devon Ostir took this picture of the last scraps of ice on the Manitou yesterday, near Wolf Island and Hare Island.

This morning he reports it is all gone.

Satellite imagery confirms that ice is vanishing. Here’s Saturday’s picture from the Aqua’s MODIS camera in true colour.

Shoal Lake has significant ice, but on Lake of the Woods, the patch south of the Barrier Islands is fading fast. The sheet of ice at the south end, near Baudette, is both bigger and whiter, but it looks very fractured, and wave action in that huge expanse of open water will probably make short work of it.

Here’s the false-colour version of the same image.

The ice actually shows less clearly in the artificially filtered scheme. Ice in the last stages of melting (see an old post about candling here) always looks the same as water in the false-colour images.

The weekend should stay sunny, breezy and warm, with temperatures at or above normal. If the remaining ice on Lake of the Woods lasts through Sunday, I expect it will vanish on Monday. I’ve already got my year-end graphs ready to go.  Shoal Lake might take a day or two longer.

 

May 10, 2018: Remnants

Terra Satellite captured a clean image of Lake of the Woods today. Here’s how it looks in True Colour.

You can see there are three main patches of ice remaining. The bright one at the left is Shoal Lake, and the fainter one to the right of it is the area south of the Barrier Islands. The patchy one near the bottom is by Baudette.

Side note: Kenora shows very clearly on this picture as a beige blotch at the upper right. Look closely, and you can just make out three tiny dark blobs in the brightest part. Those are Rabbit Lake, Round Lake and Laurenson’s Lake!

Here’s the same image in false colour. Now that you know where to look, you should be able to spot our suburban lakes again.

The same three patches of ice are visible, but the differences in ice strength more clear.

Sometimes, very thin ice is indistinguishable from space. So I went flying and took a look from the air.

Click on any of the pictures below to see a larger version that you can zoom in on.

Middle Island and the Hades are in front of the aircraft’s nose. Scotty Island is in the center of the frame, and the patch of ice extending from Scotty to Whiskey Island is not visible from space. It is very weak, and will be gone tonight.

The larger sheet of ice is the one south of the Barrier Islands. It’s in poor shape, but it’s pretty big. We circled around it for a closer look.

This picture looks north, with Cliff Island in the foreground, and Bath Island dead center. The Barrier Islands are at the far edge of the ice, and the little patch by Scotty can be seen beyond them. Kenora is just visible as some pale specks in the far-off haze. You can’t see all of this icy area in this picture; smaller sheets of ice extend in both directions, but they’re weak and won’t last.

Our training flight took us over by Sioux Narrows. Click on the image to zoom in and see the iconic bridge in the foreground. Beyond it is Whitefish Bay, which has a reputation for thick ice, but it’s no straggler this year: it’s all open. The black and grey blur is just a propeller blade photo-bombing the picture.

This picture looks west, so in the top right corner, you can see the ice we circled around before, and far off on the horizon, the white line is the ice on Shoal Lake.

We didn’t go far south, so I didn’t get a good picture of the ice down on Big Traverse, but here’s a hazy one just to show that it’s real.

It’s not very warm today, but it is sunny and windy, so all this ice is going to have a hard time. The small patch by Scotty Island should be gone by dawn. The bigger area south of the Barrier Islands might last a day or two. I’m not sure about big sheet down on Big Traverse. It looks weak, and it’s very exposed to wind down there. It could also go in a day or two. The ice on Shoal Lake looks stronger. It might last three days or so.

Sean C. will update his graph tomorrow because he’s been saying for some time that May 11 would be the day we’ll hit a thaw index of 200, enough heat to melt all the ice we made last winter. I’ll recap his method tomorrow; it worked very well this year, and shows great promise for predicting future spring thaws.

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 6, 2018: Satellite Update

I’m back in Kenora, and the lake didn’t melt while I was gone. Not all of it, anyway.

Here are today’s satellite images, starting with the true colour picture from Terra satellite. There must have been big changes near downtown Kenora, but there’s just enough cloud in the top right corner of these to obscure that part of the lake.

The false colour version makes it clear that the lake is still more than 3/4 covered in ice, but it’s all weak and breaking up. It will be gone soon.

To see a reference picture, with some landmarks labelled, visit the FAQ page.

I’m not scheduled to fly tomorrow, but if I can talk a friend into to taking a couple of pictures, I will.

IN THE MEANTIME, CHECK THE COMMENTS: PEOPLE ARE POSTING FIRST-HAND REPORTS.

 

April 29, 2018: Direct Comparison

Today the satellites captured the sharp images we need to make a direct comparison between 2014 and 2018.

2014 is relevant because it also had thick ice and a late thaw, whereas this time last year, the lake was already ice-free.

All of these images came from NASA’s Terra satellite, and are used with permission of Liam Gumley of the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

First, the natural-colour images, in which ice is white when it’s strong, and darkens to grey as it thins and weakens, with open water showing as black.

April 29, 2014. Natural Colour.

April 29, 2018. Natural Colour.

The thaw is more advanced now than on this date four years ago. The biggest differences are seen at the north end and east side of the lake. The southwest area of the lake looks more similar, and even seems to have more ice this year.

The drawback to the natural-colour pictures is that while the white ice stands out well, the dark water and dark land are hard to distinguish.

The false-colour versions of the same images  offer better contrast between land (green) and water (black), but less contrast between land and ice (turqoise).

April 29, 2014. False Colour.

April 29, 2018. False Colour.

Now it’s easy to see that while the American part of the lake has stronger ice, everything on the Canadian side is melting much faster than 2014. Four years ago, it looked the other way around.

To summarize: in 2014, Lake of the Woods was not completely free of ice until May 21. This year has mostly been looking a little better, as if it should clear by May 18, and that picture is now improving.

Our mean temperatures only rose above freezing two weeks ago, but things have warmed up fast since then. Today is warm (17°C) and breezy, tomorrow should be even warmer (19°C) and downright windy.

If we could keep that up, we’d stay on track for a very fast thaw, but temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday will colder than normal. After that we should return to roughly normal temperatures, which means daytime highs of about 14°C and overnight lows of about 2°C, so I expect the ice to go at a more normal rate next week.

I’m confident that we’re doing better than 2014. I believe the ice will be gone before the Victoria Day weekend, but I’m not sure how many days before.

I’ll have a better idea after I get a fresh look at the lake from the air. I’m looking forward to flying tomorrow, but I’m supposed to be training someone, so we might not go if it’s too windy.

There are growing numbers of boats in the water, but remember that most docks are still iced in. If you call your marina, be prepared to hear that they’re not launching yet.

April 28, 2018: Flashback

The late spring we’re having this year invites comparison to 2014, a notorious year that saw lake ice hanging around until May 21.

So let’s take a look back.

2014

This is a picture I took of Keewatin Channel on April 29 of 2014.

2018

And here’s one of the same area from from April 26, 2018. The extent of the ice is roughly comparable, but the colour of the ice is completely different.

That matters. Here’s a comment from Stu Everett, who looked into how snow cover and sunshine affect break-up.

I came across a research paper from the 1960’s on freeze up and thaw of lakes that had an interesting observation. The study concluded that freeze up has a lot to do with processes such as sensible and latent heat transfer. On the other hand, break up was impacted more by radiation and wind. The study observed that once the ice was snow free, a sort of green house effect occurred, and the ice began to melt not only from the top but also from the bottom. In short, the ice becoming snow free has a major impact on melting.
So I went to the Environment Canada historical weather site and took a look at the last day there was snow on the ground at the airport by year, as a proxy for when LOW was snow free. I then calculated the average length of time from last snow on the ground to ice out on LOW. The average length of time was 27 days. To cut to the chase, last snow on the ground at the airport was April 17th this year. If it works out to be an average year then, the ice should be out on May 13th.
One other observation I would make is that the length of time from last snow to ice out varied from 19 days (2013) to 36 days (2012). This is a tighter spread than the analysis using inflection date, but there is not a huge difference. And the averages work out to 27 versus 32 days. So the May 15th date +/- a few days is probably a good guess, as you previously indicated. Finally, as the study I cited earlier noted, a major wind storm once the ice is weakened could “blow out” the lake somewhat earlier
I added the emphasis to the radiation and wind part, because I think that’s key. Sunshine makes a difference. Judging from my pictures, late April of 2014 was cloudy with snow flurries.
If you’re curious about how ice melts from the bottom, here’s a comment on that topic from a day or so earlier. Brian wrote:
Fun fact – the maximum density of fresh water is about 4°C.
In winter the ice is (obviously) at or below zero, and floats. There’s also a relatively thin layer of water between zero and 4°C under the ice which, being a bit less dense than the 4°C water below, also floats.
I suspect in spring, sun and meltwater above 4°C can displace/warm the cold layer so instead of a cold boundary layer, a less dense warm boundary layer can replace it (as now warmed to 4°C, the old cold boundary water falls to join the denser bottom water), which hastens ice bottom candling.
I was hoping to find a pair of clear satellite shots from the same late April date of 2014 and 2018, but clouds spoiled things. The best I could do was a sharp image from April 29, 2018  and a blurry one from April 26 this year. (Coincidentally, the same dates as my pictures above.)
A quick refresher: thick ice is turquoise, weak ice is darker, open water is black.

2014

2018

I thought this year would look better than 2014. It doesn’t look it, at least not on the blurry side. But on the sharp side of the picture, pay close attention to the Whitefish Bay/Sioux Narrows area at the right edge of this image. I think we’re doing better there, and I trust that sharp imagery more. Also, keep that three-day difference in the dates in mind: by the 29th, we may see a much darker lake.

On the whole, I think we’re starting to pull ahead of 2014, and we’ve got a couple of really warm days coming to give us a further boost. Sunday and Monday are forecast to hit 18°C. After that we’ll see a brief dip to below-normal temperatures to ring in May before things bounce back to near-normal for a while.
Signs of spring: Most of our marinas are still iced in, but Caroline texted me Friday morning to say there was a boat at the Clarion’s docks. Later that afternoon I saw a pair of jet-skis frolicking in Kenora Bay, and another boat on a trailer heading for somewhere to launch.  Oh, and I spotted a pelican the other day.