April 25, 2019: New Camera

Today’s photo opportunities didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. By the time we came home this afternoon, it was turning cloudy, casting huge patches of shadow on the lake and making it hard to tell what was water and what was ice. Worse, it was trying to snow, and it was very gusty. We gave up and concentrated on landing.

But there is some good news; I did get a few pictures today.  Because I have a new phone, (a Samsung Galaxy S10e) with a new camera, I took some test shots this morning to break it in and get a feel for how it works. The nose of the aircraft is prominent in these pictures because we’re climbing quite steeply.

This first shot was taken using the wide angle lens*. It’s a bit too much, I think, and it looks a little blurry, although that could have been due to turbulence. But check out Rabbit Lake to the right of centre, or Laurenson’s Lake, partly blocked by the windshield wiper arm. Both have turned very dark, and the east end of Laurenson’s, under the wiper, is melted.

*The wide angle lens does not shoot a picture with an aspect ratio like this: I’ve cropped out a whole lot of sky and dashboard from the top and bottom. It does include a wide span of terrain, though.

That greyish smudge at the right is a bug-strike on the windshield. Sign of spring.

As usual, you can click on these pictures to see a full-screen version that can be zoomed to full resolution.

Using the regular lens, here’s the standard Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay shot.

Town Island is at the left edge of the frame. Near the centre of the picture, Gun Club Island is still surrounded by ice on Rat Portage Bay, but other than the ice roads, that ice looks weak. The last areas of ice in Safety Bay are on the north side of Coney Island, and they look almost completely candled. Kenora Bay, at the right, is letting go at last. (For an explanation of candled ice, and some close-up pictures, see this post from April of 2017.)

As we turned left, Bare Point and Middle Island came into view.

There are watery patches between Bare Point and Lunny’s Island now, and you can see how the water by Town Island, off the nose of the King Air, is expanding and reaching towards Scotty Island.

A little further left, and you can see most of Hay Island as well.

Left of the nose, you can see Quarry Island, Queen Bee, Chien d’Or and Burley Islands. No water in that area yet, but zoom in and look at the Barrier Islands behind Middle Island (right in front of the plane’s nose): the water at The Elbow has expanded a lot.

I didn’t take many pictures this morning because I was more interested in what we’d see this afternoon. Then the weather turned poor on us, and I decided to wait for Friday morning. So of course I got word this evening that my Friday flight, a pilot “check ride,” has been cancelled.

Before I go, I should talk about the weather forecast a little. The snow we flew through this afternoon didn’t reach the ground, but it was the vanguard of a cold air mass. The temperature tonight is forecast to sink to 0ºC, and although we should limp back up to about 10ºC tomorrow afternoon, we can then expect several days of single-digit highs and lows sinking to around -2ºC. Those temperatures are about 5º below normal for late April, and that’s likely to put a damper on things. The lake will continue to thaw, but not at the same rate we’ve been enjoying since the middle of the month.

I’ll be talking to Ted Burton at 89.5 The Lake tomorrow morning just after 8:00.

 

April 23, 2019: Graphs

I didn’t fly today, so I’m catching up on some graphs and predictions.

First, an updated graph from Sean C. You can click on it to see it full-screen.

To recap:

The blue line with the plot points tracks our actual daily mean temperatures so far.

The yellow line is based on weather forecasts. In theory, this is the path that the blue line will follow, but it gets less reliable the further into the future you look.

The solid red line represents a warm spring that racked up lots of high daily mean temperatures in a short time. It’s sort of a best-case line.

The solid green line represents a cool spring that took a long time to deliver a decent amount of heat. This is more of a worst-case scenario.

The horizontal dotted red line represents our goal for this year, a thaw index of 240. As each day’s mean temperature gets added to the blue line, we rise towards that goal.

The target index of 240 points is based on last year because the winter conditions were very similar as to both the length of the winter and the depth of the cold.

The vertical dotted red line indicates a date we might make it by. It was set to May 17th when this graph was first created, but we’ve already started to improve on that.

We might have an easier thaw if last winter’s frequent snowfalls degraded the quality of the ice compared to 2018. Soft ice wouldn’t require as many warm days to melt, so we could do it with less than 240 points.

Here’s a graph I made, using data provided by Sean, but presented in a different way. It’s wide, so you should probably click on this one to see it clearly.

I’ve given each year a horizontal bar that starts on the inflection date (when the mean daily temperature rose above freezing on a lasting basis) and ends on the day Lake of the Woods was ice-free. The most recent year is at the top, and the oldest year (2008) is at the bottom. Rather than line up all the inflection dates at the left edge, I displayed them on a calendar base, because a May thaw is apt to apt to get more hot days than a March one. You can see this: the lines that start really early run longer than the ones that start late.

Now it happens that our inflection date this year was April 13th, the same as 2016. I’m confident that this thaw will take at least as long as 2016’s, which ended on May 4th, so this year’s bar is solid blue up to that date. Realistically, there’s little chance of getting off that easy. The winter of 2015/2016 was a mild one, and the ice didn’t put up much of a fight.

I’ve tentatively shown a longer period of uncertainty in pale blue. I ran that out to as late as May 17th. That’s to match the prediction from Sean’s graph. I’m really hoping that’s on the pessimistic side. I didn’t have the heart to project anything worse.

It might be possible to be ice-free around the middle of the range—May 10th or 11th—if we thaw as fast as last year. We’re doing well in that regard right now, but there’s cooler weather forecast for the weekend and next week that could slow things down again.

The final result may depend on two basic things: how much ice we can melt during our current warm spell, and how that forecast cooler weather plays out.

There are also two wild cards: rain and wind. Rain has an enormous capacity to deliver heat energy deep into ice if there are cracks. Wind can do violent damage to ice sheets once there’s open water in contact with them.

 

April 21, 2019: Signs of Spring Sunday / Retrospective

Sings of Spring first, then a rummage through the archives to see how 2019 now compares to past years.

On the migratory duck front, I’ve seen a pair of Goldeneyes.

The last traces of snow are gone from my back yard and the north side of my roof.

Some hiking trails on Tunnel Island are mainly clear, but the B trail is not good: it had long stretches of slippery ice on the path last time I tried it.

The town came and swept  the sand off my street and sidewalk. Yay! and thanks.

Warm roads would wear down the soft compound on my ice tires rapidly, so I put my summer tires on for this weekend’s road trip.  Now I can roll my eyes righteously whenever I hear someone go by on studded tires.

Now let’s compare my April 18th pictures from this year to pictures taken on around the same date during the last five years. I’ll focus on two parts of the lake: the Town Island to Scotty Island stretch, and Treaty Island because it’s next to Rat Portage Bay and Devil’s Gap.

Here’s what it looks like this year.

There are small amounts of open water in the Town/Scotty end of the Manitou.

Treaty Island is almost entirely frozen in right now. Devil’s Gap, at the right end of the oval, has some open water.

Last year was a slow spring.

On April 18th of 2018, there was no open water around Town Island, let alone Scotty. Treaty Island had only a little water showing at Devil’s Gap.

Okay. On to 2017. I have pictures from April 20th that year. This is going to make you feel bad.

Not only could you reach Scotty Island, you could Reach Middle Island and parts of Hay Island, too.

Treaty Island had no ice at all.

2016: These pictures are from April 19th.

2016 wasn’t quite as good as 2017, but you could drive a boat to the west end of Town Island, and you could get within shouting distance of Scotty Island.

Ice was rotting around Treaty. 2016 was an average year, with ice completely gone in the first few days of May.

2015: from April 17th.

Ice was weakening by this time that year, but not yet clearing much around Town Island. Another average year.

Same story at Treaty.

Lastly, 2014, from April 21st, a miserable day with heavy cloud and snow flurries.

No open water anywhere near Town Island, and as for Scotty, fuhgetaboutit.

Treaty Island was about what you’d expect:

Ice-bound, with just a trickle of water open in Devil’s Gap. Rat Portage Bay was solid. 2014 was very late: the ice wasn’t all gone until May 21.

Summary:

The dates change from year to year, but the pattern of ice-out is pretty consistent. These two sample areas open together.

This year’s thaw is nowhere near the best, but it won’t be horrifyingly late.

We’ve got another four days or so of warm temperatures before things turn a little cooler for a while, with some overnight lows likely to be just below freezing, and daytime highs sinking as low as 5ºC. I hope I don’t regret changing my tires. Below normal temperatures could stretch on for ten days.

The more the lake opens now, the more the ice will be vulnerable to wind and rain, even during that cold stretch.

It’s hard to guess how this will play out. If we could stay warm, we would certainly do a lot better than last year’s May 14th. But if things turn cold until the beginning of May, we might still end up around the same.

I’ll be talking to Ken O’Neil at Q-104 on Monday morning, and after that a training flight should give me a chance to take some fresh pictures. I’m hoping there were big changes over the Easter weekend.

 

April 20, 2019: Satellite Saturday

I drove to Lac du Bonnet today. That took me past Clearwater Bay, and from the highway it looks completely frozen, but maybe a little grey. At Pye’s Landing, it seemed as if ice was melting away from some of the docks, but I didn’t see enough water to drive a boat in.

I don’t think today’s rainfall in Kenora amounted to much, but it was cloudy enough to block the satellite’s view of Lake of the Woods. Yesterday was no good either.

The most recent sharp pictures were on Thursday the 18th. Here are the MODIS camera images from the Terra satellite.

On the false-colour image, you can really see what an important factor current is. The Rainy River at the south end, and the Winnipeg River at the north are both wide open. All the other dark water is at narrows in one location or another. It looks as if the ice is darkening on the north portion of the lake more than on Big Traverse in the south.

Here’s the same photograph in natural colour.

It’s much harder to distinguish water from islands, but the difference in ice quality from north to south is clear.

For fun, here’s a comparable shot from the same date one year ago.

It looks to me as if we’re pulling ahead. We should be: today’s high was 15ºC, and our recent string of double-digit daytime highs is about a week earlier than a similar jump in temperatures a year ago. If you thought this spring was cold, on April 13th of 2018, the overnight low was -10ºC, and the daytime high was -1ºC!

By the way, if you’re having trouble figuring out which is your favourite part of the lake, here’s a similar picture from the FAQ with some key features marked.

The MODIS camera images from NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites are used with permission from Liam Gumley, of the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

April 18, 2019: Progress

We’ve finally had some warm weather: temperatures have moved into double digits, with a forecast of more to come, offering hope of a string of days with above normal highs. It’s starting to make a difference.

I had an afternoon trip today that gave me the opportunity to take pictures both when I departed and when I returned. I’ve picked the best two of each.

Click on any of these pictures to see a larger, zoomable version.

I haven’t made it out to the Barrier Islands lately, so that was on my wish list.Looking south with the Big Traverse on the horizon. That blocky looking “island” at the left is actually the western end of the Eastern Peninsula. From there, track west across the picture to see East Allie Island, Allie Island, then the open water at The Elbow, then Mather Island and Shammis Island. I’m pretty sure that water at the Elbow is more extensive than last time I looked.

We carried on south for a minute longer to get a better look at Big Narrows and we got a bonus: two new patches of water! At the left side of this picture there’s water between Shammis Island and Crow Rock Island now.  Closer to the middle of the picture the current is opening things up in Crow Rock Channel, too. Further off to the south west, water continues to expand at Big Narrows.

Those were the highlights of the outbound leg of my trip.

On the way home, I was able to swing out towards Scotty Island to check on developments there. We’re looking more or less east now. At the left is The Tangle, where water’s been opening up the path into Keewatin Channel. The ice road through Holmstrom’s Marsh is clearly visible to the left of Thomson Island. There’s new water showing at the centre of the picture near Anchor Island. Scotty Island is just right of that.

I glimpsed something behind Scotty Island that made me want a better look.Scotty Island’s distinctive crescent-shaped beach is near the left edge of the frame, and yes, in the middle of this picture there’s water between Strawberry Island and Middle Island now. There’s also a tiny bit between Strawberry and Scotty. And if you zoom in to look at things further away, there’s water appearing between Middle Island and Hay Island now, in The Hades.

In summary, warmer weather has enabled water to break through in multiple areas. I also think the ice is starting to look greyer overall, although it’s hard to compare pictures taken at different times of day with different amounts of sunlight.

The weather forecast is looking more promising lately. A week or so ago, we were facing a gloomy outlook that suggested below normal temperatures would persist into May, but now the latest forecasts are calling for double-digit temperatures for the Easter Weekend and through next week. We might even manage a thundershower this Saturday. Rain would be good.

Over the weekend, I’ll probably dig through the archives to see how our recent progress looks in comparison to past years, but I won’t be flying again until Monday. If you’re interested, I’ll be talking to Ken O’Neil at Q-104 on Monday morning.

Have a happy Easter weekend. Safe travels.

 

April 11, 2019: Little Change

It was gusty and bumpy today at low altitudes today, so I took one quick picture from fairly high up before descending into the turbulence to land.

Still, it’s a useful picture, taken from 6500 feet above sea level, (or about a mile above the lake) because it shows all the area that was hard to photograph on Tuesday, when we had to fly low.

Click on the picture to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

The photograph looks north west, with Treaty Island near the middle of the frame. Gun Club Island is at the precise centre. There might be a little more water showing at the left edge, where Keewatin Channel turns into The Tangle. Water on Safety Bay seems to be creeping out to Yacht Club Island. Devil’s Gap looks about the same, especially at the Rat Portage Bay end.

There hasn’t been much progress lately. Temperatures have been low, and although rain did remove a layer of snow cover, it soon snowed again and covered everything up.

The only places the ice is yielding is where the current is strong. The rest of the lake—and all the other lakes in the area—are still ice covered. I’ll range further when conditions improve and there’s something to show for it.

In the meantime, the forecast is for snow tonight. The Weather Network says only a centimetre or so, while Accuweather says six to twelve centimetres. Environment Canada splits the difference, calling for two to four. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

 

April 10, 2019: Falling Behind

I felt like it was time to look back and see how our current ice conditions compare to those of the last few years at this date.

As it happens, I have pictures from April 9th for 2019, 2018 and 2015. For 2016 and 2017, I have pictures from within a few days of that date. Of course, they were all taken from different heights and in different directions… but Town Island appears in each one, so I’ve marked it with a big red arrow. The arrows point roughly north, by the way.

Don’t forget: you can click on the pictures to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

Lets have a look. Here’s one of yesterday’s pictures. April 9, 2019.The low camera angle makes this picture hard to decipher, but zooming in may help. Not a whole lot of open water yet this year.

A picture taken exactly one year earlier: April 9, 2018.But cheer up, last year was worse. Look at all that strong white ice on Rat Portage Bay. Ice-out in 2018 wasn’t until May 14th, though, so doing better than that is setting the bar pretty low.

Two years ago: April 7, 2017.2017 was an early spring. The ice was all gone a couple of weeks from now. In this picture you can see that Safety Bay and Keewatin Channel are running freely, and water reaches out past Town Island towards Scotty.

Three years ago: April 13, 2016.2016 was mild, too. By the 13th of April, the water extended almost as far as 2017. Then things slowed down and we held on to some ice until early May.

Four years ago: April 9, 2015.April of 2015 had progressed more than this year, but ended up having a normal ice-out of early May.

I don’t have pictures from the right time period in 2014, and the camera I used then wasn’t as good. I can tell there was more ice at about this time than there is now. That’s cold comfort: ice-out in 2014 wasn’t until late May.

In summary, you can’t really look at one day and make an accurate prediction that spans the coming weeks. However, I will say that it no longer looks as if we have much chance of an early thaw. We’d need favourable conditions to be ice-free by early May, and the forecast doesn’t offer much hope of that.

Here’s one reason why: Stu Everett posted a comment that sheds light on how much difference snow cover makes. The short version is, it doesn’t just protect the ice from the sun’s rays. It also lowers the region’s air temperature by preventing the warming of the soil. Here’s his full explanation:

 

You have commented on the air temperatures in Kenora and how they seem to be holding below normal. I quote from an article I read recently: “Snow cover, or lack of it, can have a dramatic effect upon temperatures. For example when there is no snow on the ground at La Crosse, WI, the January daily average temperatures are 11.2 degrees warmer than when there is snow on ground.” OK, so let’s make that 5 degrees C.
Looks like temps will not return to normal until the ground becomes snow free. As we locals all know, there remains a fair amount of snow cover in the area, and that snow is really dense, more like ice than snow. There are still 5 cm of snow at the Kenora airport according to their data for yesterday. At the beginning of the month we had 8 cm at the airport, so the snow melt rate is really slow this year. Last year on this date there were 12 cm of snow on the ground and it took 10 days to become snow free.
So what does this mean for LOW ice out? Well I calculated last year that it is 27 days on average from no snow cover at the airport to ice out on LOW. Given the short term forecast, it seems unlikely that the airport will be snow free until this weekend at the earliest. At this time of year those 5 degrees might mean refreezing overnight, which delays melting a great deal. Last year it took some double digit temps to finally get to snow free at the airport, and that, according to the forecast seems highly unlikely in the near future. But let us be optimistic and say the airport is going to be snow free this Sunday. 27 days from Sunday is May 11. Hate to say it, but this year sure looks a lot like last year, you called ice out on the 14th, right?
One caveat though. Last year the temps got into double digits almost every day by about the 19th of April. No sign of that happening this year according to the long term forecast, sigh…..looks like another late breakup, probably after the (optimistic) May 11th cited above.
That’s pretty depressing. While I’m reluctant to forecast a late ice-out on the basis of any one single factor, we’re now looking at three unfavourable things: extensive ice, significant snow cover, and forecast cool temperatures.
 
My predictive method is mostly ice-based. I use comparisons like the one in this post to measure progress and gain perspective. It’s not looking great.
 
Stu’s preference is to look at snow cover. He’s not optimistic at all.
 
Sean uses mean daily temperatures: starting when that value rises above freezing, he weighs the forecast warmth against the severity of the winter. The mean temperature isn’t consistently above freezing yet, so he hasn’t even started his calculations.
 
Sigh.
 
Accuweather offers a forecast for all of April. That’s a long way ahead, so let’s consider it largely speculation, but they aren’t calling for double-digit temperatures until the week of the 21st.
 
And we’re looking at another snowfall Thursday night.
 
Heavy sigh.