May 13, 2019: The Last Ice

Today I went looking to see if any ice remains on Lake of the Woods. I did find some, south of the Barrier Islands, but it’s just little patches of loose, candled ice.

The photo above is from around 10:00 this morning, and looks south over Allie Island towards the Alneau Peninsula. I’ve circled the area of interest so you’ll know where to zoom in for a better look. At full resolution, that’s clearly ice.

I thought a little patch of weak ice like that wouldn’t last long, so I was looking forward to checking on it on my return in the afternoon.

We came back at about 5:00 and after checking to see that Big Sand Lake, north of Minaki was open, (too far away to photograph, but it is open) I started with a picture of Shoal Lake.

As far as I can tell, Shoal Lake is wide open. Because it’s deep, It often clears about three days later than Lake of the Woods, but this year it cleared earlier.

Next shot, Big Narrows.

Looking south. Left of centre is Wiley Point, with Big Narrows above the middle of the picture. In the distance, is that ice on Little Traverse? It was so hazy I wasn’t sure, but there was ice there the other day.

Next, I checked on that ice south of Allie Island.

In the centre of the picture, you can see it’s falling apart, but it’s not gone.

There was a lot of discussion about Bigstone Bay over the weekend, so I wanted to get a bird’s eye view.

This picture is centred on Scotty Island, with Middle Island and Hay Island stretching away to the right. Bigstone Bay appears to be entirely clear.

Next, a closer look at Bare Point and Pine Portage Bay.

Bare Point Marina and Northern Harbour, on Pine Portage Bay, are key access points for Bigstone Bay and Hay Island. Both are wide open now. I counted about twenty boats in the water at Northern Harbour this afternoon. There might be more, but the bigger boats are easier to see.

So although a small amount of ice persists, the lake is essentially open for boating.

Let’s go to the satellite imagery, Bob.

Aqua‘s image was spoiled by cloud today, but Terra got a pretty good shot. The white circle encompasses Rabbit Lake, Round Lake and Laurenson’s Lake, which are good markers for picking out Kenora. The small red circle is the surviving ice south of Allie Island. The large red circle indicates the area of possible ice on Little Traverse, but the satellite image shows nothing except a streak of cloud.

Fun with Clouds, Part Two: at the top left, our friends the fair-weather cumulus. At the right, in blue, high altitude clouds made of ice crystals. In the lower part of the picture, clouds of vertical development: towering cumulus or nascent thunderclouds, with watery bases and icy tops. When clouds like this become full-grown thunderheads, the vertical movement of water droplets up and down through the freezing level forms hailstones.

Summary: only one tiny patch of weak ice remains on Lake of the Woods today, and it will be gone tomorrow.

That means we’ll be ice free on exactly the same date as last year, which kind of makes sense given how the winters were similar in both duration and coldness.

I say kind of, because although the winters had a lot in common, the springs were quite different. 2018 was a late, cold spring that turned really warm at the end of April. 2019 was a slow, cool spring with few warm days.

Here’s Sean’s updated graph of our temperature progress this spring.

Overall, you can see we had moderate thawing this year, with the blue dots showing that mean daily temperatures added up slowly, especially in late April. When Sean and I first modelled this year’s forecast, we chose a thaw index of 240, because that’s how much heat it took to melt last  year’s ice, and the two winters were similar. In the end, although the predicted date for ice-out came close, the actual amount of heat it took to do it was less than we thought, and this graph shows a revised forecast with the expected thaw index reduced to 190.

Basically, we assume that a long cold winter makes lots of ice, and it will take lots of warm days to melt it all. That’s simplifying, and we know it. The brutal winter of 2014 thawed with an index of 194, so 190 is not unreasonable. Perhaps last year’s 240 points was an oddity.

In any event, we didn’t need as many thaw days as we first thought. Sean offers these technical insights:

Sources of error are plenty in this high level statistical analysis. Wind, direct sunlight, rain, ice thickness, snow thickness etc are all variables that the analysis does not take into account.

Our ratio of freezing index to thawing index was right around 10 this year, which is the average for the last 15 years or so. Our initial prediction this year was conservative based off of last years data and went with 7.5 freezing index to thawing index ratio.

If we had ignored last year’s unusual thaw, we would have used a ratio of 10 and gone with an index of 200. That would have been close.

That’s basically it for this year. I’ll do a wrap up post when I can confirm that last patch of ice is gone, and I’ll update the different graphs that show how this spring compares to recent years.

Now that boats are hitting the water, it’s time for my annual reminder that the stretch of Safety Bay from Bush Island west to Norman is a licensed Water Aerodrome: an airport for float planes. Please watch out for them when boating in this area. Think of it as a runway. For safety reasons, float planes have the right of way when taking off or landing. When taxiing, they are supposed to be like any other watercraft, but from experience, I can tell you that they cannot decelerate quickly or turn sharply. Do be careful around them.

May 11, 2019: Satellite Saturday

Aqua didn’t get a perfect look at Lake of the Woods today, due to some high thin cloud, but Terra had an unobstructed view, and got a beautiful sharp image.

Here’s the false-colour version first:

The three large ice sheets seen yesterday—on Shoal Lake, in Little Traverse, and south of the Barrier Islands—have all shrunk dramatically. The smaller patch on Bigstone Bay seems to have gone completely.

Fun with clouds: the fair-weather cumulus clouds at the left edge of the frame are low: you can tell because their shadows are sharp and tight.* The big patch of cloud in the upper right corner is higher, and the shadow is softer and wider. The cotton-candy clouds at the lower right are higher altitude, so their shadows are fuzzy and widely separated. It’s cold up there; these clouds are blue because they are composed of ice.

*When I see drifting herds of clouds like these over the prairies, I call them buffalo ghosts.

Here’s the natural colour version of the same image:

The details of the lake don’t stand out as well, but the ice is very plain to see. Interestingly, the city of Kenora is easy to spot: look directly above the most northerly ice sheet, and you’ll see a sprawling beige area. That’s Kenora. Now that you know where to look, squint at the false-colour image, and you can make out our three suburban lakes: Rabbit, Round and Laurenson’s.

There’s a bit more to say about Bigstone Bay. Keep in mind that a sheet of ice a kilometre square would only be a tiny speck of four pixels on one of these satellite images, so absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I got this comment from Jeff, who finally reached Hay Island this afternoon.

I made it to Hay, all of Bigstone ice free, except for some in front of Smith Camps, which that is likely gone by now or close to.

Smith Camps is located on Thunder Bay, just east of Pine Portage Bay and Heenan point.

I received this picture from Ted Main at about 3:00 this afternoon.

Ted says: Here is a picture from Thunder Ridge Road (Heenan point) facing north to Northern Harbour.

There are patches of candled ice in the foreground, and perhaps a more extensive sheet towards Pine Portage Bay in the distance.

A note on the weather: a week or so ago, the outlook was dismal, with temperatures expected to run consistently a little below normal until the second half of May. We did better than that today: we spent several hours at 19ºC this afternoon, which is actually slightly above normal for  mid-May. It was lovely. I got the patio furniture out, and we had drinks on the deck. The Weather Network’s 14-day forecast now says that although daytime highs will run a little shy of normal, overnight lows will be on the mild side.

 

May 10, 2019: Almost There

Here’s today’s satellite image from Terra.

This picture’s a little blurry, but it’s clear enough to tell the tale. Shoal Lake is trying to hide under a cloud but there’s still ice in the main part of Shoal. On Lake of the Woods, a large sheet of ice survives on Little Traverse, and there’s a smaller sheet south of the Barrier Islands at the centre of the picture.  Just above that is Hay Island’s distinctive “battleaxe” shape and although I thought Bigstone Bay might be fully open, there’s still a fuzzy blue patch there, representing weak ice.

There’s no longer any ice visible in the Clearwater Bay or Ptarmigan Bay areas, but anything less than a kilometre square (four pixels) would be invisible at this resolution.

May 9, 2019: Going Fast

Good news is coming in from all over.

First,  Dave Debney sent me pictures yesterday that show Northern Harbour is starting to open. This one’s my favourite.

Dave didn’t add much commentary, but his pictures show the docks opening up and the ice candling out on Pine Portage Bay.

Today, Ian Bruce sent word that Bigstone Bay is starting to clear. That’s exciting, because Bigstone holds ice longer than almost anywhere else close to Kenora. Ian included this photograph.

Ian says: Looking south to Hay Island. Ice has retreated almost to the Boulder Islands. To the west, solid from east side of Copper towards Scotty’s.

Here’s another picture from Ian, taken this evening at around 6:30.

Ian says: Looking west to Kipling Island and the top end of The Hades, Smuggler’s etc.

Stu Everett sent me this update through the comment form:

A fair portion of the Manitou blew out overnight. However the area from Whisky Island west to Birch Island seems intact so you might not get through the centre channel at the east end of Crow Rock island. I did go out through the west channel, then over past Queen to catch the south track into Tranquil Channel. I could see that the Centre Section still has a fair amount of ice on it in the open area. This wind is really having a huge impact so it should not be long before the lake is open save say Shoal Lake, which always seems late. But the best news of all is fresh crappies for dinner!

Satellite imagery was partly blocked by cloud again today, but check out this image from the MODIS camera on NASA’s Terra satellite.

Water is black, Ice is bright blue, False colour images, From MODIS to you.

In brief, the ice on Big Traverse looks to be all but gone, and the two patches of ice that do show in this picture—Little Traverse lower down and north of the Alneau further up—seem to be shrinking and weakening fast.

You can’t see much of Shoal Lake, but it might have more open water now.

Other areas of interest, such as Clearwater, Ptarmigan and Bigstone Bays, are all obscured by cloud.

I don’t expect to be flying until after the weekend, but some of my friends likely will, and I’m hoping for some aerial photos to show the ice dwindling away. By Monday, I think we’ll be down to just traces. If that’s right, we’ll be almost a dead heat with last year.

May 8, 2019: Yesterday’s Satellite Images

I did fly today, but cloudy skies gave flat lighting that made it really hard to tell the difference between ice and water. Both just looked grey. I didn’t take any pictures.

I was so busy selecting and cropping photographs for the last two days that I didn’t have time to check on the satellite images. Both Aqua and Terra captured sharp images on May 7th. I’ve updated all the links under the SATELLITE PICTURES sidebar, but I’m going to show you the Aqua pictures here.

I’ll start with a labelled version to get you oriented.

Now the clean version so you can see the ice more clearly.

The lake has less than 50% ice cover now, with the strongest, brightest ice on the Little Traverse (where the letters OF THE appear on the labelled version.) Below that, Big Traverse has fractured ice, while above the Alneau Peninsula, there’s a wide expanse of ice as far north as the Barrier Islands. West of Lake of the Woods, it’s interesting to note that Shoal Lake still has plenty of ice, West Hawk Lake has weak ice, and Falcon Lake is open.

For comparison, here’s the natural colour version of the same image.

Although it’s harder to distinguish water from land, the white ice really stands out. Bigstone Bay is a good example, and so is Silver Lake. Subtler patches can be seen on Ptarmigan Bay, Clearwater Bay, and Andrew Bay.

Keep in mind that these images are from yesterday. There’s been some progress since then; I noticed today that ice on Lower Black Sturgeon has shrunk and drifted north with the current, and that’s just one place where I happened to get a good look.

In case you don’t read all the comments, here’s one from today by Stu Everett:

Was out in my boat today and managed to make it to Crow Rock. I did take a look out around the point and it seems clear down to Wiley Point. Can’t guarantee it is open to Wiley, it is sometimes hard to see the ice from water level, but it seems likely. The wind came up this afternoon so the trip back was less circuitous, some of the areas are quickly becoming ice free. You can see piles of ice up on the shore in many places, and where the ice is weak it is breaking up. It sure looks like some large areas are going to blow out today. I am confident that tomorrow will show many changes from the photos you took this AM. Here’s hoping!

I may not be flying again until Monday. By then I expect the ice to be nearly all gone.

 

 

 

May 5, 2019: Kevin Walsten

I’ve been trying to put together an update for the Minaki area for over a week now, but my flights north all seemed to detour east first.

Kevin Walsten went out in his Super Cub today, and sent me these pictures.

Kevin says: Picture taken May 5 Gunn Lake looking north at Little Sand and Big Sand lakes.

Digital cameras do weird things with propeller blades. Minaki can be seen between these two.

On his southbound return leg, he took this shot.

Kevin says: Looking south east at Big Sand and a bit of Rough Rock Lake.

Still some shore to shore ice in this area. Thanks, Kevin.

Cloudy weather continues to impede the satellites. Terra got a better look than Aqua today, but you can still only see the south end of the lake.

I’ve used the same selection frame of 800×800 pixels as usual, but all that’s visible are Muskeg Bay at the bottom left, and the mouth of the Rainy River to the right of that. As seen in Josh’s photos yesterday, there’s big change happening on that part of the lake.

Is the rest of Lake of the Woods melting as fast? I’m not sure: Big Traverse is very susceptible to windy conditions, but the more northerly parts of the lake are full of islands. There’s still wind movement, but not on the same scale. Also, if the satellite images are anything to go by, we’ve been having a lot less sunshine in the north.

Signs of spring: I saw my first loon today, on Rabbit Lake. No ice anywhere on Rabbit, by the way, not even a handful.  Some float planes are out: Kevin’s for one. Our Lilac hedge is starting to bud, so trees should finally start to turn green.

In the meantime, though, the weather will remain cold for another day before temperatures reluctantly creep up to the low double digits on Tuesday. A normal high this time of year is about 15ºC, and the Weather Network isn’t forecasting anything quite that warm in the next two weeks.

Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol is celebrating some growth this spring.

It’s been busy: I’ve written 47 blog posts in 49 days, reviewed over 600 photographs, and processed and posted about 175 of them.

Ice Patrol hit new highs for numbers of visits, shattering the old mark of 10,000 visits in a week by hitting 14,000 last week and topping 16,000 this week.

Comments have increased too, offering more reports and fresh insights.

I had more help this spring. As always, my coworkers at MAG Canada pitched in, and this year over a dozen guest contributors sent in waterfront pictures or aerial photos. This helped immensely, allowing Ice Patrol to cover more of the lake and filling gaps in my flight schedule.

Thanks, everyone!

May 4, 2019: Update

Some waterfront pictures from guest contributors first, then a satellite update.

Brenda Stewart sent  this picture of the ice retreating on Longbow Lake.

Brenda says: The wind is really pushing the ice off of Longbow Lake today.

Brad Douglas submitted this shot of Echo Bay.

Brad says: This is taken today, May 4 on the south end of Echo Bay pointing north. It is the deep part that usually doesn’t freeze until Clearwater Bay does due to the depth. The wind is really knocking down the ice and breaking it up with large sheets floating past my cottage. The rest of Echo Bay is clear.

My wife and I took a drive to Winnipeg today for some errands. Caroline took this picture of Falcon Lake from the car as we drove past.

There’s some ice in the distance, along the south shore, but there’s lots of open water now.

Now a satellite update. We’ve been under cloud layers a lot lately, but skies cleared a little today and Terra was able to image some of our region. Compare this to the partial picture from two days ago in the previous Ice Patrol post.

The blue streaks are probably high altitude clouds composed of ice crystals.

See the FAQ page for a similar satellite image with some key locations marked.

The central part of the lake, from the Northwest angle across the Alneau Peninsula is obscured by that pretty blue cloud, but the north and south areas are visible.

Let’s start with the north end of the lake. Almost in the middle of the picture, I think I see water at the east end of Ptarmigan Bay and White Partridge Bay. At the time this image was captured, Clearwater Bay was still mostly ice, but strong wind was bringing rapid change everywhere.

Left of centre, Shoal Lake is darkening, and it looks as if the north shore is open.

In the  south, Buffalo Bay and Muskeg Bay, at the bottom left, are opening up. The north part of the Sabaskong seems to have cleared, possibly due to ice shifting south. Close to the bottom of the picture, the Rainy River is flowing into a huge area of open water on the Big Traverse.

We were warmer than expected today, and although the temperature remained lower than normal for this time of year, the wind worked hard to make up for it. If that continues, large areas of the lake could be open for boating by the time the weekend’s over. Sunday’s supposed to be cooler, but still windy; Monday cool and merely breezy.