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!

 

 

April 9, 2022: Satellite Saturday

A few Saturdays have gone by without the regular Satellite Saturday feature. There are a couple of reasons for this. Most worrisome, one of my two favourite satellites is offline at the moment. NASA’s Aqua satellite–which carries one of the MODIS cameras–has gone into Secure Mode. Maybe this has to do with solar activity, or perhaps it’s a technical problem of a different sort. At any rate, it hasn’t delivered any pictures since the end of March. NASA technicians are trying to get it functioning again.

The other reason is cloud cover. We’ve had a ton of it. So poor Terra, working without its twin, has had few chances to image Lake of the Woods. We finally had clear skies for a while yesterday, and Terra was able to capture this.

April 8th MODIS false-colour image from NASA’s Terra satellite.

If you click on this image, it won’t get bigger. But you will see a version with some location tags.

Remember, in the false-colour images, ice is pale blue and open water is black. Aside from the Winnipeg River, flowing towards the top of the picture, the only open water of note is the bit near town, and some at Big Narrows, just left of the center of the frame. There might be something over at Whitefish Bay, to the right of center in this picture. Significantly, there’s no water showing at south end of the lake, not even at the mouth of the Rainy River.

At times like this, I get curious to see how the situation compares to past years.

Here’s a mosaic I made up for today’s presentation at Common Ground. I had fun, by the way.

Common Ground – Volume III was released today. It contains all the stories of the Lake of the Woods Area from the last five Common Ground storytelling events. Copies are available at the Kenora Public Library and the Lake of the Woods Museum.

If you click on this picture you’ll see it full-screen. The resolution of the mosaic is 1920×1200.

Comparable false-colour images from 2012, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2021 and 2022.

These pictures are all from the end of March in recent years.

2012 was one of our earliest melts, as you can clearly see here. 2014 was the year Ice Patrol became a website, and it was dreadful: there’s so much snow in the woods that you can barely distinguish the lake. 2017 shows open water at Rainy River, Big Narrows and the Winnipeg River. There’s bare farmland on the American side, too. 2018 wasn’t ice free until May 14, and it was still very icy in late March. 2021 shows much less snow in the forest, and the thaw was over by April 24th. This year most closely resembles 2018. We shall see.

Also worth mentioning: there’s been very little change between March 27 and April 8. That’s almost a fortnight without visible progress.

The future of NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites is limited. They were designed to operate until “the early 2020’s”. Terra is low on fuel, and cannot correct it’s orbit like before. Aqua is having a time-out.

So I am exploring a new portal that offers satellite imagery from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites, as well as Landsat satellites from NASA / USGS* and some others. I haven’t got the full hang of it yet, but I have made a start. I have learned that Sentinel 2 (there are 8 or 9 Sentinel satellites, and they are not identical) offers a Short-wave Infrared view that is similar to the images above. The good news is, the resolution is much higher. The bad news is, quite often the satellite only images narrow strips of Lake of the Woods. It’s a trade-off, you see: because the camera zooms in for good detail, it cannot easily cover huge swathes of ground. Or lake, in our case.

But here’s one recent success. You can click on this image to see a full-screen version. 

Sentinel 2 Short-wave infrared image of Lake of the Woods. March 28, 2022.

You might want to compare this image to the picture at the lower right of the mosaic above. That MODIS picture was taken just one day earlier, so you can get an idea of how the colour scheme compares. It seems clear that open water is black, but I’m not sure about the medium blues. Thin ice, slush, or surface water over ice?

I look forward to getting more familiar with this resource.

*The nine LandSat satellites are a joint project of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Geological Service (USGS).

The weather: we are having another warm spell, but the forecast is for significant snowfall next week, and cold temperatures into the Easter weekend. We have not yet reached the Inflection Point, because although we’ve had some above-freezing days, we keep sliding back to colder (and below normal) temperatures. An average high for today’s date is 7°C, and an average overnight low is about -4°C. That would put us on the right side of the Inflection Point, but we continue to fall short.

So we’re off to a late start. Other years with late Inflection Dates have run to fairly rapid thaws, because April weather tends to be pretty warm.

Here’s the Pancake Graph so you can see how this spring fits into that pattern.

You can click on this graph to make it larger and clearer.

Inflection to Thaw Calendar for 2003 to 2021.

We had a nasty cold winter, so if we don’t hit Inflection until after Easter, we’re going to need some good warm weather to stay on track for my first guess, which was that we’d be ice-free around May 11-15.

Signs of spring: I saw Mallards today, and the gulls are squawking. I have not yet seen a skunk or a bear. The bear part worries me a bit. We had a lot of bear activity in town last year because the berry crop was poor. That hard winter may have been too much for underfed hibernators. I fear there may have been a significant die-off. The snowdrift on my deck that was once the size of my Tucson is now down to just a couple of meagre* snow-shovels worth. Will it be able to hold on until next week’s reinforcements arrive?

I use mostly Canadian spellings: colour, favourite, meagre, and so on. I once had a short story rejected by an American magazine’s slush reader for “spelling mistakes.” This is my revenge.

 

 

 

April 4, 2022: Fresh Aerial Photos

Please join me in welcoming a new contributor, freshly licenced pilot Joel Wiebe. He flies a vintage 1953 Cessna 170B, and has a camp out on Middle Island, so I look forward to pictures of that area from him in the near future.

In the meantime, today’s pictures are of Keewatin Channel, Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay. Why is there so much emphasis on this area right now? Well, for one thing, it’s where the water is. Nearly everything else is frozen, and if you’ve seen one stretch of lake ice, you’ve seen them all.

Poplar Bay and Holmstrom’s Marsh, in the foreground, Keewatin Channel in the centre of the picture.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version. I had to compress the images a little to upload them, because modern digital cameras, including the ones on smartphones, create very large image files.

Rat Portage Bay, with the open water of Safety Bay in the middle distance.

Thanks, Joel.

This is the second post on Ice Patrol today. There is an update to the previous post. Scroll down past Paul Leischow’s first drone panorama, and if you don’t see the word UPDATE in bold red text, hit refresh on your browser. The updated version now includes a link to Paul’s matching panorama from exactly one year earlier.

Two Ice Patrol posts in one day must be a sign that things are heating up.

Signs of spring: I saw five Canada geese today. I think I might have seen some gulls, but they were too far away to be sure.

Ice Patrol Advanced User Tip:

When I wanted to find the Ice Patrol post with Paul’s drone panorama from last year, I used the search tool on the right-hand sidebar. Entering “drone” or “Leischow” in the search field gave me a list of posts, showing the first sentences of each and offering a Read More option.

This tool works on anything I’ve tagged, and I apply a lot of tags to each post. This entry has tags for Poplar Bay, Holmstrom’s Marsh, The Tangle, Joel Wiebe and so on.

You can use this method to hunt down posts about your favourite part of the lake.

One more reason to visit the Ice Patrol website, even if your primary approach is to subscribe to the email list.

March 16, 2022: It was a very cold winter

Hi, I’m back. A few people contacted me to ask if there would be an Ice Patrol this spring as, thanks to the pandemic, I am now retired from flying.

Yes. Yes there will. Naturally, with me not flying, there will be fewer aerial photographs. I’m fairly sure there will be some, because I still have friends flying.

Note to pilots: if you’re flying over Lake of the Woods between now and May, I’m eager to receive photos. If you have more than two or three, please carefully select just a few of the best.

Calling all drone operators: if you’re visiting the lake, why not take your drone along? You might get some nice shots of your camp, and if you happen to see any open water, I’m always keen to know where. Again, please don’t swamp my mailbox: two or three pictures is usually about right.

Email select pictures to icecaptain(at)outlook.com Please include a little information about when, where, who and how. Why is optional.

Please note; it is not possible to send me pictures using the comment box. That’s for text only.

I’ll be adding a DONATE form to the Ice Patrol website. If I can raise enough money, perhaps I’ll be able to take a plane out for a short flight.

Now let’s talk about the winter. 2022 has been unusually cold so far, and also very snowy. Last Saturday, the temperature dropped to an astonishing -28°C outside.  That’s close to the record, by the way: March 12th in 1956 edged us out, dipping to -30.6°.

An average temperature range for mid-March is overnight lows of about -11°C and daytime highs of right around the freezing mark. Yesterday and today we went above freezing for the first time.

I’ve been keeping in touch with Sean Cockrem, the guy who does all the pretty temperature index graphs. He reports that we have already achieved the second coldest accumulated freezing index* in recent years, and we still have more freezing temperatures to come.

*Sean tracks the severity of the winter by totalling the daily mean temperatures. In winter, this is a negative number that drops lower day by day, and graphing it gives a quick visual on how long and cold a winter is. This gives us an idea of how much ice will have formed.

That means we can expect the ice to be thick and the thaw slow. Heavy snow cover will act as a thick and reflective blanket of insulation, protecting the lake ice from spring’s warm air and sunshine.

Warning: there is very deep slush under the snow. Be wary if travelling on any lake.

By the way, if you’d like to meet me in person, I’ll be speaking at the Common Ground storytelling event on April 9th at Seven Generations, 240 Veterans Drive. I’ll be doing a twenty minute presentation on what I’ve learned watching the thaw for over thirty years, and I should have a couple of minutes for questions. Tickets go on sale March 15th and will be available at both the library and at the museum at a cost of $35 payable by cheque or cash. The ticket includes lunch and refreshment breaks.  This event sells out fast so be sure to let your friends and family know.

I won’t be posting very often just yet. Lake of the Woods is about as frozen as it gets.

That’s all for now. Hope for the best, but be prepared for a late thaw.

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April 4, 2021: Shoal Lake to Kenora

Some new aerial photographs from Josh Broten, and also the first drone picture of the year, taken by George Dyker over Clytie Bay, a popular cottage area on Shoal Lake. All were taken Saturday.

Let’s start with Josh’s overview of Shoal.

You can click on these pictures to see them full screen and full size.

Northwest Angle, Shoal Lake.

Looking north from over the Northwest Angle towards Shoal Lake. Lots of water and only pan ice in the Angle. In the distance, the ice looks poor on Shoal.

Monument Bay, Shoal Lake.

Here’s a slightly closer look at Shoal, with the camera pointing north west over Monument Bay, so that Shoal Lakes large Dominique and Stevens Island appear side by side. Mason Lake and part of Reid Lake are a the right side of the frame.

Now George Dyker’s drone shot of Clytie Bay on Shoal. George operates a DJI drone.

Shoal Lake’s Clytie Bay.

This view looks south west, with the open water at Gateway Point in the foreground. That ice road that heads off onto the main body of the lake looks to be in one piece, but it’s riddled with cracks.

Now, back to our tour with Josh’s Cub, picking things up at the south end of the lake, where Josh is based.

Oak Island, Flag Island, Brush Island.

We’re back by the NW Angle, looking at the area by the international border. The open water is mainly by Flag Island, which has a webcam, by the way. You can find a link to it on the Lake of the Woods Links sidebar.*

*When viewed on a desktop or large tablet, Ice Patrol offers a number of features on a sidebar to the right of the main column. These include Recent Comments, a Search Tool, a Flag Counter, the Archive Tool, and an extensive list of links that may be of interest to lake dwellers and visitors.  However, if you’re in the habit of viewing Ice Patrol on a phone, or via the email subscriber list, you may not see the sidebar.

Also a link to my writing blog. Support me by buying my SF novel, AVIANS. It’s about girl power, alternative aviation, and volcanoes! E-book and trade paperbacks available. Averaging 4.5% stars last time I checked.

Oak Point, Big Narrows.

Looking south. The patch of open water in the foreground is right at Oak Point, and there’s open water almost all the way through Big Narrows. At the left, on the far side of Big Narrows Island and Tranquil Channel, there’s some open water through French Portage Narrows.

Chisholm Island, Cliff Island.

Looking north west, with Chisholm Island at the bottom of the frame, and Cliff Island at the left. The Alneau Peninsula is just off the picture to the left, and the Barrier Islands are near the upper right corner. Prominent pressure ridges show the strain on the ice.

Let’s finish Josh’s tour with a shot of the Kenora area.

Poplar Bay, Keewatin Channel, Rat Portage Bay.

Centered on Keewatin Channel, this picture looks north east towards Rat Portage Bay, Safety Bay and Kenora. Poplar Bay is in the lower left corner.

The ice is weakening, slowly but steadily. Warm temperatures all week, with daily highs in the double digits, should help.

In the meantime, a reminder. Ontario went back into a province-wide lockdown on Saturday, April 3rd, and is expected to stay that way for a four week “emergency brake.” Hairdressers are closed, restaurants are take-out only, and stores are restricted to half or quarter occupancy, depending on how essential they are. More details here.

 

 

March 31, 2021: Myrtle Rapids

There’s no real news, because it’s been cold. If you’re checking in from far away, it was -14°C when I got up this morning, and it hasn’t gone above freezing today. A normal high this time of year is 5°C and with pleasing symmetry, a typical low is -5°C. We’ll be back to above normal temperatures tomorrow, and double digits by the weekend.

So while there hasn’t been much active thawing, Luke Burak sent me two pictures of the Myrtle Rapids area on the Winnipeg River, just west of the Dalles. I’ll just post this one, as they show the same area.

You can click on this picture to see the full screen, zoomable version.

Myrtle Rapids.

Looking south east towards Kris Island in the upper right corner.

Thanks, Luke!

Meanwhile the satellite pictures continue to be perplexing.

Here’s today’s from Aqua.

Aqua satellite’s image from March 31, 2021, in false colour.

Those stripes look pretty wild, so I checked the true colour image.

Aqua satellite’s image from March 31, 2021, in true colour.

That looks a bit more natural. I’m guessing streaks of wind-blown snow.

Terra‘s pictures this morning were a bit glitchy, but the same streaks are visible.

Technical notes. I’ve lost access to Photobucket, the internet home of some of my oldest archives. They’ve revised the service, and I cannot log in because I no longer have the email address I had when I set up the account. So I am gradually uploading my old pictures to a new archive here at WordPress. I won’t be able to recover the captions or any remarks I made, but I do have all the pictures, neatly filed by date. These are pictures from before Ice Patrol was a proper website: the years from 2009 to 2013. I started with 2009, and you can try the Previous Years tool on the sidebar for that year, if you like. The other years probably won’t work until I do a lot more work. Eventually, I’ll put up some of the pictures I took as far back as 2003.

March 27, 2021: Satellite Saturday

First, a high resolution satellite photograph from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 satellite, taken on March 23.

You can click on this image to see it full-screen. You can zoom in enough to make out roads and big buildings.

Lake of the Woods north of the Alneau Peninsula and west of Whitefish Bay.

The south end of the lake was captured, but the full size image is too big to upload whole. You can view it online, here. Sorry, Sioux Narrows, the image cuts off just west of Whitefish Narrows. You got left out.

Okay, so this is a nice picture, but it’s four days old. What’s happening now?

Strange things. But first I have to explain a bit about the different ways satellites can image stuff. The ESA’s Sentinel satellites (there are six in active service) use powerful instruments to take pictures of a small part of the planet with high resolution, sort of like a telephoto lens. But because they’re working with such a tight field of view, they can’t cover everything all the time. So opportunities to photograph our lake only come up once in every several days. Throw in periods of cloud cover and darkness, and it’s actually more like once or twice a month.

This is why I usually rely on the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites. They’re designed to constantly take pictures, using a wide-angle view that lets them sweep over pretty much the whole planet every day or so, but in less detail. The pair of satellites have matching but complementary orbits, and the general situation is that Terra images LotW in the morning, and Aqua in the afternoon. The instruments they use to do this are called MODIS. That’s short for MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. If you want to read more about it, you can see a brochure here. The key facts from an Ice Patrol perspective is that they scan the planet in multiple wavelengths, including separate bands of Blue, Green and Red light, two bands of Near Infrared, and two bands of Shortwave Infrared. For the true colour images, the blue, green and red components are blended to create a natural looking view, in a manner somewhat comparable to how your printer uses three ink cartridges to print full colour. For the false colour versions, a computer takes information from several wavelengths and processes it a bit differently. Today I learned that the images I use, which come from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, are processed using the same algorithm every day. That’s relevant, because some of the recent images have shown an unexpected development.

Here’s the image I posted a few days ago, from March 22.

Aqua satellite’s MODIS image from March 22, 2021, in false colour.

The ice is darkening all over.

And here’s the latest image, from March 25.

Aqua satellite’s MODIS image from March 25, 2021, in false colour.

Whoa! When I first saw this, (after I said “What the…?”) I thought maybe I’d accidentally pulled a picture from last year or something. Nope. So what on earth is going on? We can’t have suddenly created a foot of ice, because these pictures are from before our recent  drop to freezing temperatures. This picture was taken by the Aqua satellite on the afternoon of March 25, when the temperature was probably about 5°C. The overnight low the night before was a mild -2.7°C. We’d have been losing ice in the days before this picture was captured, not making it.

Okay, you know that TV show about the pawn shop? The one where they say, “I’m not an expert, but I have a friend…”? Well, I have a few contacts, and this time I reached out to Hilary Dugan, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the place that publishes these satellite images to the web. She’s a limnologist (a freshwater scientist who studies lakes and rivers), and she knows a lot more about the MODIS images than I do. In fact, much of the information I dumped on you a few paragraphs ago comes from her. She was able to confirm that the image processing has not been altered. So she, and her colleagues who work directly with the public versions of the imagery that I use here, have two possible explanations. The lake looks different because of a change in lighting, or the lake looks different because the ice has transformed in some way.

I don’t really think it’s just the lighting, so there has to be some change in the quality of the ice. I thought that maybe the ice had candled, and Hilary suggested that it could have developed a lot of air bubbles, making it airier and whiter.

We’ll know more when we have a sunny day and get new pictures. In the meantime, I’m going for a little drive. Take a second look at that Sentinel image at the top of this post. You might have noticed that two little lakes just west of Kenora—Muriel Lake and Sandy Lake—are shining bright and conspicuously blue. I want to know why.

Okay, I’m back. Neither of those lakes is covered in blue snow. They’re shiny, and the ice is thin: there’s a prominent warning on the  Pellatt Community Centre sign. I went to the shoreline and photographed the ice. This is how it looked at Sandy Lake:

Shoreline ice at Sandy Lake.

And this is what it was like at Muriel Lake.

In both cases, the ice was granular, and very white from the air in it.

Maybe this is what’s happened to the ice all over Lake of the Woods.

I started work on this post this morning. Since then, today’s Terra image has come in.

Terra Satellite’s MODIS image from March 27, 2021 in false colour.

There are cute little cumulus clouds hugging the ground along the top and left of this picture, and high altitude ice clouds in the lower right. You can definitely see the shadow of the ice clouds altering the look of the lake ice. So I guess the quality of light does affect the colour.

I am reminded of the lyrics of Paul Simon’s song Graceland. “The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National Guitar…”

It’s sunny this afternoon, so I’m interested to see what Aqua‘s image looks like. It’s not ready yet, so I’ll publish this now, and update this post when the new image comes in. Revisit Ice Patrol and hit refresh on your browser sometime this evening if you’re curious too.

 

March 19, 2021: Jason Duguay

Our guest contributor today is Jason Duguay. He’s a paramedic with ORNGE, and when there’s not a patient on the helicopter, he sometimes has time to snap some low-level photos near Kenora, usually in the vicinity of the LotW District Hospital or the Kenora airport. Here’s a couple from a recent flight.

You can click on these images to see them full screen, and then zoom in.

Longbow Lake

I left this picture full-size because I like the rotor blade.

 

Longbow Lake, Pine Portage Bay, Bigstone Bay.

This one, I cropped to letterbox proportions, because there was a lot of sky, and it saves on upload time and storage space.

In addition to his job as a paramedic, Jason also explores the lake on his ATV. Here’s what he said about a recent outing: “I was all the way down to Calendar Island on my ATV on Wednesday. The ice is still tight and solid. But there is little to no snow on top of the ice. Only a few slushy areas around Narrows or ice ridges. The Landings seem to be holding up for now as well.”

Thanks for the report and pix, Jason!

 Some technical notes and stuff.

The numbers of visitors to Ice Patrol are running around the same as last year, which is to say about half what they were before the pandemic. Notably, hits from the US have dropped from about a third of the total to about a fifth or less. This makes sense. US visitors cannot look forward to visiting Canada yet, and the number of Canadian snowbirds wintering in the US is drastically reduced.

Bizarre stuff from Flag Counter: I have recently had visitors from Tunisia and Martinique. Umm, hi! Welcome to the frozen north.

So far, my regular contributors are popping up in my inbox like old friends, and I haven’t even emailed them to nag! Naturally, some are absent, as pilots have been laid off by the thousands. I recently heard that my own lay-off has been extended to the end of June, so it’s unlikely that I will be flying or taking any aerial photos myself this year. Luckily, a couple of my colleagues are keeping MAG Canada’s home fires burning, and are taking pictures for me when they can.

I have added a search tool to the sidebar of the website. This makes it possible to search the blog for posts about your favourite place or contributor.

NOTE: The search box won’t work all that well after I archive most of the previous years on a separate site (I’m running out of storage here) but I’ll provide links, and the archive site will also have a search tool.

Remember, if you view most of your Ice Patrol content via an email subscription, or on a mobile device, you’re missing out on some of the features of the full website. Stop by for a visit now and then. The easiest way is to type icepatrol.ca into your browser.

The weather continues to improve. Today we hit 10°C for several hours, and the Weather Network is forecasting a high of 11°C for tomorrow. After the weekend, we’re probably looking at cooling off a bit, with daytime highs in the low single digits next week, and overnight lows ranging from -4°C to as low as -7°C. Don’t be too disappointed; normal temps this time of year are more like highs of merely 2°C and lows of about -8°C, and we’re still doing better than that.

 

March 11, 2021: The Return of Ice Patrol

Okay, I see site visitor statistics are on the rise, so I better say hi!

First off, welcome to spring of 2021. Not gonna ask how your year went since I closed off last May: there was much gloom for many. I hope you’re doing okay.

Now, I have good news and bad news. Ice Patrol continues to face challenges. Most importantly, I’m still not flying, so I won’t be able to provide the level of coverage of past years. I hope some of my regular guest contributors will come through again this year*. And, of course, we’ll have the satellite imagery. I can’t resist the temptation to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart from Casablanca: “We’ll always have MODIS.”

*folks, that is a HINT!

The other reason I was holding back on making an earlier start with Ice Patrol this spring is that I am running out of digital storage space on my free WordPress account. Those high-resolution photographs are huge files, which is one reason why I have to pick and choose which ones to put up. I had planned to upgrade to a more expensive plan, but that isn’t practical while I’m not working.

However, I think I have found a technical solution for this. WordPress will allow me to open a second free account, and move the old content to it, freeing up room for more new content here. This will result in some technical issues with accessing the archives while I go through the process. Crossing my fingers that I don’t lose or break anything during the move.

Okay, enough of that. Let’s talk about the ice. About a week ago, I heard that the ice roads were holding up, but that the landings were in rough shape. I also overheard someone express grave distrust in the overall condition of the ice, given our mostly mild winter. There have been trucks hauling gravel or crushed rock, and those weightier vehicles have contributed to chewing away at the ice on the shorelines. There are reports that one of those big trucks went through the ice in a shallow, marshy spot down around Flag Island.

I just got confirmation that one regular ice-fishing family pulled their shack off last week, rather than risk poor conditions. We’ve had more mild weather since then, so I imagine the roads are getting sloppy.

In the coming days, I plan to take a look at the temperature data from the winter to see what insight that might offer into our ice conditions. In general, the winter was mild, with the exception of brutal cold in February.

Signs of Spring: a few Canada geese and some early ducks (goldeneyes) have been spotted. A friend saw a swan! Streets are mainly bare, snow piles are shrinking, the snow sculptures on the harbourfront have collapsed. Tunnel Island trails are slushy, icy and very slippery. Do not fall: dog poop is surfacing by the bushel. Ahem, there are free bags and a disposal bin!

The Border: the international border remains closed to non-essential traffic. Some snowbirds did go south by air, despite warnings, and will be allowed to return, but they will face quarantine restrictions upon entry. A hotel stay will be mandatory, and Covid tests before and after arrival will be required. No word on opening the border to US citizens.

Covid update: the number of cases in and around Kenora has been jumping up and down, but the trend is upwards, with more hospitalizations. You can check for the latest info at Kenora Online’s Covid page. Canada has much lower infection rates than the US, but our vaccination program is lagging behind. Southern Ontario is beginning to experiment with using pharmacies as vaccination sites in some key regions, but a general roll-out that extends to this area is still pending. So far, this region has only a limited program for giving Moderna vaccine to those most at risk. An online portal for booking appointments will soon go live for Ontario, but it will be restricted to those over 80 at first. The website of the Northwest Health Unit posts updates on vaccine availability. No word yet on when I might be able to get a shot.

May 7, 2020: Bigstone Bay

I’m going to start with two pictures that are a couple of days old, and then show how things are changing. Bigstone Bay is one of the last places on Lake of the Woods to have ice. I’m not sure why, but this is true year after year. Perhaps there’s not much current.

You can click on the pictures to see them full-screen. That version can be zoomed.

Except the satellite image. Kenora’s Round Lake is about the smallest thing the MODIS cameras can show you, and trying to zoom in will just make it worse.

The first two pictures are from Al Smith, operator of Smith Camps on Thunder Bay.

Looking west from Heenan Point.  Sultana Island on the right, Scotty Island on left.

Still a good extent of ice in this picture from sunset on Tuesday evening.

Looking east from Smith Camps on Thunder Bay towards Eagle Pass.

Eagle pass is the water route around the east end of Hay Island. Al says it looks to be ice free from Route Bay through to Moore Bay.

Now some drone photographs from today, with thanks to Michael Tomashowski.

This picture facing West shows Bigstone Bay with Heenan Point poking out into the ice.

Looking north east at Longbow Lake.

The west end of Longbow looks open, but zoom in to get a better look at the ice in the more distant east half of the lake.

Michael has operated a DJI Mavic Pro since 2017. Thanks, Michael.

NASA’s Terra Satellite got a clear view of Lake of the Woods today. Here’s the false-colour image.

The ice on Shoal Lake is still visible from space.

The bright blue patch at the left is ice on Shoal Lake; it’s shrinking day by day. Less easy to spot is the ice on Bigstone. Near the north end of Lake of the Woods, look for a sizeable island shaped like a battered battle-axe, chopping downward: that’s Hay Island. Just north of it, a dim patch of blue is the thin ice remaining on Bigstone. Longbow Lake is just north of that, but the ice there is not visible to the satellite’s camera. Too thin and waterlogged, I expect. If there’s any ice remaining south of the Barrier Islands, I can’t see it.

NOTES:

Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol has seen a sharp reduction in web visitors this spring, to about half of recent years. Fair enough. Many visitors won’t be able to come in the early part of spring. Also, my being laid off from my flying job for three months (because of the pandemic) has meant that there have been far fewer aerial photographs this year, and that some areas have had much less coverage. Sorry about that.

But there have been pluses: I’ve had a lot more guest contributors this year. Many have taken the time to email me photographs to share with you. Some have made multiple flights in their small planes, and for the first time, I’ve been able to feature drone photography.

Despite the problems, it’s been gratifying to be able to do this blog while grounded. I never dreamed I’d get this much help. Thank you all.