May 14, 2019: All Clear

I believe Lake of the Woods is 100% ice-free today. So here’s a look at how the spring went, in graphs. You can click on the graphs to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

First, the Brick Graph. Each year gets a brick, and I stack them according to when the ice went out. For simplicity, I divide April and May into five-day periods.

2019 was not an early thaw. Of the last sixteen years, only 2014 was significantly worse, and that was a dismal spring after a brutal winter.

Here’s a slightly more complex graph, that shows not just the date the lake was clear of ice, but the length of time from when it started melting to when it finished. More specifically, each horizontal bar spans the calendar from the Inflection Date, when the mean daily temperature rose above freezing on a lasting basis, to the Thaw Date, when the lake was entirely free of ice.

2019 is at the top, 2018 just below, and so on, down to 2008, the earliest year Sean worked out an inflection date for.

Some fun trivia from this graph: Our inflection date was April 13th this year. 2016 shared the same inflection date, but the lake cleared by May 4th, a full ten days earlier. The ice was probably a lot thinner that spring, because the winter had been mild. 2010 was an extraordinary year: the lake was completely clear by mid-April!

Here’s a graph from Sean that shows how our spring temperature profile compares to other years.

On this graph, all the springs are lined up with Inflection as Day Zero at the left regardless of the calendar date. Each year gets dots in a different colour, and day by day, the mean temperature is added to the rising total. A spring with a string of hot days will produce a steep rise, a cooler spring will show a flatter line. The solid red line is the average for all the years since 2003. 2019 is the thin blue line, and Sean points out that although we did better than average at first, we fell behind about halfway along and never quite caught up.

Anyway, that’s the kind of spring it was, but the lake’s open now. I won’t be doing regular updates any more until next year. I expect I’ll fire up the Ice Patrol again on the first day of spring, or the inflection date, whichever comes first.

Thanks to everyone who came by to visit the website and shared word of it with friends, and a special thanks to my guest photographers and my co-workers at MAG Canada who made it possible for me to offer updates on days when I didn’t fly.

Talk to you next year,

Tim

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 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.

 

 

May 2, 2019: Good Timing

My morning trip today was flown in cloud and showers, so there are no pictures from that. However, my afternoon trip brought me back to Kenora just as the sun broke through at about four o’clock this afternoon.

First, two pictures from guest contributors.

Rick Jackson sent me this picture from the French Narrows/Andrew Bay area. It was taken on April 30th, but it’s fun to see someone using a good-sized aluminum boat as an ice-breaker.

Rick says: We live at French Narrows and on April 30th lowered boat to see how far I could get? That Green Buoy is SE of Square Island #E25, ice was solid enough for the boat to ride up on top . Looking back in diaries we should get to BarePoint by May 08 -09 ?

I also got this May 1st picture of Rush Bay from Joe Pereira.

Joe says: Looks like all of Rush Bay is free of ice.

It’s been a frustrating week for aerial photography, but this afternoon the cloud scattered out, and we were able to fly over Lake of the Woods get some useful shots. The low cloud layer was breaking up, but we still had to stay beneath it, so these pictures are from a fairly low angle.

You can click on any of the following pictures to see a full-screen version that can be zoomed to it’s full resolution.

First up: Keewatin Channel/Rat Portage Bay.

Looking roughly east. The isolated island below the centre of the picture is Yacht Club Island; you can see the red roof of the Clubhouse at the east end. That blurry rectangle is the electrical connector for airplane’s heated windshield. Worth noting in this photograph is Gun Club Island, visible above Yacht Club. Because of the ice roads, Gun Club is always the last thing to let go on Rat Portage Bay, but it looks like that could happen any day now.

Next we banked south to fly down Keewatin Channel.

That’s Crowe Island right on the nose of the King Air, with ice extending left towards Rat Portage Bay. Above Crowe is Anglican Island, Channel Island and so on, with The Tangle at the right above the wipers. Zoom in to see Scotty Island in the distance.

I’ve been trying to get closer to Clearwater Bay for days, so we turned west.

This is Bulman Bay, just south of Rheault Bay, with Bulman Island near the middle of the picture. Ice seems to be shore to shore here. The eastern end of White Partridge Bay is at the right side of the frame. There are patches of open water there, but most of the dark areas are just cloud shadows.

Here’s Corkscrew Channel.

Looking west towards Clearwater. I wish we could have gone further west, or at least climbed higher, but I didn’t see any significant water in this direction.

We swung south towards Brûlé Point.

Ice is starting to let go here. None of the deciduous trees are turning green. I don’t think they’re even budding yet.

Then we had to turn east to start heading for the airport.

This is Fox Island and The Manitou. Follow the softening ice road at the left to check out Hare Island, Wolf Island and Welcome Channel. Something looked strange about Whisky Island, so we went for a closer look.

The Manitou is almost entirely frozen, but there’s some weird patchy ice around Whisky Island with a few air holes in it.

We straightened out to the east again.

Holmstrom’s Marsh is at the lower left of this photo, and Thompson Island extends beyond the aircraft’s nose.

Zoom in on this picture to see the open water getting tantalizingly close to Scotty Island. Right now there’s an ice barrier between Anchor Island and Scotty, but it should let go in a day or so.

Last, as we headed off the lake towards the airport, a look north over our left wing at Galt Island and Devil’s Gap.

Allan’s Island is partly hidden by the prop, and the propeller blade is pointing right at Devil’s Gap. In this picture, you can really see how the ice roads strengthen the ice around Baker’s Island at the mouth of Matheson Bay at the right, and off the wingtip, north towards Rogers Island and Treaty Island.

That concludes today’s whirlwind tour.

Weather note: there was a dusting of snow on the ground again this morning, and although the sun did come out late this afternoon, we still only managed to reach six or seven degrees Celsius. Winnipeg was sunnier for more of the day, so it was warmer there, but basically, a huge swath of Canada from the Prairies to Quebec is caught in a cold northerly air mass. Forecasters are fairly confident that colder than normal temperatures will persist for two weeks or so. They’re not  making any extravagant promises for the weeks after that, either.

 

May 1, 2019: Marinas, Aerials and a Graph

Lots of stuff today. I’ll start with some contributor photos, move on to a handful of fresh aerial photographs, and finish with a look at Sean’s Thaw Graph and the weather outlook.

You can click on any of the images to see them full-screen. Some will be higher resolution than others.

I got photographs from three contributors today that follow up on my marina report from yesterday. Here they are in the order I received them.

Al Smith sent me this picture of the docks at Smith Camps on Thunder Bay.

Smith Camps on Thunder Bay.

This shot looks out from Thunder Bay at Bigstone Bay.

Then Ian Bruce sent me this look at Bigstone from a different vantage point.

Ian says: Taken from mainland on Branch road 6A, looking south to Hay Island. Boulder Island middle distance to the east side touching flag pole. Still lots of ice, shorelines thinning to a bit open.

A little later, Brian Finnegan sent me a picture  of Henderson’s Marina on Route Bay.

Henderson’s Marina, Route Bay.

Looks like things are coming along there.

In a separate email, Brian attached this shot of the docks at Northern Harbour.

Docks at Northern Harbour, Pine Portage Bay.

Brian mentioned that marina operator Gary Hall said he hopes to be putting boats in the water next week.

Thanks to Al, Ian and Brian for taking the time to send me their pictures to share with you.

Okay, on to aerial photographs. Today wasn’t great weather for taking pictures. Luckily, I grabbed a few shots in the morning, just in case the afternoon was poor. This turned out to be the right choice: although we had low cloud in the morning, we had lower cloud in the afternoon, with showers as well.

So, I’ll start with the standard view of downtown Kenora I get after we lift off from Runway 26 and climb to the west.

Laurenson’s Lake is open now, and so is Round Lake (not shown in this pic) Rat Portage Bay still has some ice, but it looks very weak.

As we start to swinging south to head east to Dryden, we get a look at the area south of Devil’s Gap.

In brief: Matheson Bay at the left, Gordon and Galt Islands near the middle, Rogers and Treaty Islands at the right. The ice looks soft here, too. The channel into Devil’s Gap is open at the lower left, partly blurred out by a propeller blade.

Next, as we continue to turn from south to east, we look at Bald Indian Bay.

Sultana Island dominates the middle of the frame, Pine Portage Bay is behind that, and Heenan Point extends almost to the right edge of the picture. Thunder Bay lies behind it.

Okay, remember how I said it was a good thing I snapped a few pictures on the way out this morning? Here’s what it looked like in the afternoon. I had to grab this shot through the side window; it’s impossible to shoot through the windshield with our high-speed wipers going.

Anyway, this looks south west at part of Bigstone Bay with Heenan Point at the right and Hay Island emerging from the rain in the distance.

Now, on to the weather situation.

I had to email Sean to ask him to update the Thaw Graph. As you can imagine, it’s not good news, and he didn’t want to depress everyone. Even so, I think it’s a useful way to picture the temperature trends and their significance.

Click on the graph to more easily read the fine print. The blue line with dots represents how our daily mean temperature is adding up towards our goal. (Set to 240 points based on similar ice-making conditions last winter.) With recent temperatures barely squeaking above freezing, that upward progress has levelled off lately. That means a delay in accumulating enough warm weather to melt the presumed amount of ice.

Which brings us to the forecast. A normal daytime high this time of year is around 15ºC. The current  Weather Network forecast doesn’t call for a temperature that warm until mid-May. Forecasts can be wrong, of course, and they’re most certainly subject to change. But it seems likely that we’ll be spending the next two weeks struggling, (and mostly failing) to reach double-digit highs. At night, we’ll be close to freezing.

If there’s a bright side, it’s a peculiar one: miserable weather can also remove ice. Rain and wind are not as nice as sunshine, but they do transfer energy that can melt and break up ice. As we head into May, I’ll take any help we can get.