October 24, 2022: Tragic News

Ice Patrol has lost one of its contributors to a fatal plane crash on Lake of the Woods.

I recently learned that the pilot who died in the vicinity of Shore Island in late September was Josh Broten.

Joshua D. Broten       May 18, 1982 ~ September 21, 2022 (age 40)

He was the sole occupant of the plane, his Arion Lightning.

Josh was an early and regular contributor to Ice Patrol, sharing many photos of the spring ice conditions taken on flights from his home base in Roseau, Minnesota. He was an enthusiastic and cheerful correspondent, and clearly loved our lake.

I’m sad that I never had the chance to meet him in person.

You can see his obituary here.

That’s all for now.


March 17, 2022: A correction and an advisory

Correction: In yesterday’s post, I reported that tickets for Common Ground had gone on sale, and were 35.00. This was not correct. Ticket sales have been delayed a little, and they are not yet available. It should be soon. Further, the cost of the tickets will be $30, not $35. Sorry for the mistakes; I was going by an old email.

Advisory: The donation form works in US Dollars. It seems that Stripe, the outfit that manages the money, works in US dollars because the internet is very international. I’m concerned that this may not be clear to Canadian donors. I hope no one has overlooked this and donated more than they could afford.

Anyway, a big thank-you to all of you who made donations.

May 26, 2021: 80 Days of April

I’ve been meaning to do a wrap-up post for this spring, as it was an odd one: although we had our first April-like temperatures way back on March 4, we’ve been in a kind of limbo ever since, with those same April conditions persisting well into May. Last week we finally got some warm temperatures, but this morning it dipped to freezing and snowed.

I’d like to show you the final graphs for the year.

First the simple Brick Graph.

The 2021 brick gets added to the April 21-25 stack.

You can click on these graphs to see them full-screen size.

Then the slightly more informative Pancake Graph.

This shows how agonizingly gradual this year’s thaw was compared to other years. It appears to be the slowest in my records by a wide margin.

This is partly a matter of definition, because this graph starts the clock when the mean daily temperature goes above freezing on a lasting basis. That began on March 4, but temperatures averaged out to just barely above freezing for weeks.

In a year with strong currents in the lake, ice might have continued to erode steadily despite wishy-washy temperatures, but lake levels were on the low side, and the Lake of the Woods Control Board restricted flow through the Norman Dam  to keep them from dropping further. That meant less current, so the channels and narrows that usually open up early kept their ice for quite a long time.

Sean Cockrem sent me an enhanced version of his Cumulative Temperature Graph, which I cheerfully refer to as the Shark Fin Graph.

Sean has enlarged this graph so that you can see more detail. It’s well worth clicking on it to zoom in.

To recap: long winters are wide. Cold winters are deep. Sean uses that to determine whether the ice is likely to be thick or thin, and then estimates how much heat will be needed to melt it all. He assigns a point value to that, and uses the weather forecast to try and guess when that score might be reached.

But just in case you’re feeling lazy, let me show you a close-up of the last two years:


The first thing I notice when I compare the two winters on this section is that last winter was both shorter and milder than the one before. An interesting detail is the difference in the tiny sections between the blue X and the red dot. This represents the entire thaw from inflection point to ice-free. In the spring of 2020, we had a short steep path from one to the other. Once it (belatedly) started to warm up, it got rapidly warmer, and the lake ice was gone in about three weeks. This year was very different. From that early start on March 4th, the line staggers along—dipping below freezing at first—for over seven weeks before all the ice is finally gone.

That’s it for this year.  Here’s hoping the weather picks up and the pandemic dies down.

Technical Error

The first version of today’s post, March 28, 2019: Four Quick Shots did not have the zoomable pictures. Or the pilot/photographer credits. It’s fixed now, but you should refresh the page to display the corrected version on your screen.

March 17, 2018: Ice Thickness

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Since my last post, I’ve been talking to a couple of the guys at work that go ice fishing, and they tell me the ice has been both thick and solid in recent days. A typical ice auger is sold with a three-foot bit. Dave tells me he’s seen some people using extensions to get through, so we can say the ice thickness is three feet or more.

Cam agreed with that, and had another comment that was informative. After he drills through the ice, he drills another shallow hole to use as a rod-holder, and he tells me those little holes usually fill slowly with water that filters through the tiny cracks and fissures in the ice. But this year, that hasn’t been happening, meaning that the ice is exceptionally solid and strong.

Both Cam and Dave said confidently that this will be a late spring. I’m inclined to agree, but I knew I should look at some of my archive pictures for perspective before I said so.

You can do this too. Look for the ARCHIVE OF PREVIOUS MONTHS AND YEARS tool in the sidebar of this web page*, then from the drop-down menu, choose March of 2017, 2016, or 2015. That will take you to the last post from that month, so usually March 30th or 31st of that year. Scroll down to find a post from March 13th or 14th to compare to this year’s first batch of photographs.

Note: I took no pictures in 2014 until April.  That was a bad year. [shivers]

If you’re not up for that kind of research, here are some direct links to those posts:

March 14, 2015: It Begins

March 14, 2016: The River

March 14, 2017: Hard March

March 13, 2018: Lets Take a Look (most recent previous post)

To me, it looks as if the amount of open water this March is comparable to recent years, but there’s one significant difference: snow cover.

You can see from the photographs in my previous post that the lake is still covered in a good layer of pure white snow. In January, snow cover slows down ice formation by insulating the surface of the ice from frigid air temperatures.

In March, the situation is reversed: the snow is protecting the ice from sunshine and warm air that would melt it. Recent daytime temperatures above freezing (my personal definition of spring) have turned that blanket of powdery, air-filled snow to a more crunchy, crystalline layer that doesn’t insulate as well, but it’s still a big factor because it’s white and reflective, keeping the sunshine from the darker ice below.

This year’s snow cover is heavier than recent years. We need to lose that snow before we’ll see the ice melting steadily.

So, how did those previous years turn out? Here’s the graph. Each year gets a brick. The bricks get stacked in piles representing five-day calendar periods.

2017 went in late April, a little earlier than average. 2016 and 2015 went in the first days of May, which is most common. 2014 was a brute, not letting go until late May.

In summary, ice fishers who get up close and personal with the lake ice report an ample thickness of strong, clear ice, and believe it will take longer than usual to melt. From the air, things look about normal for this time of year, with perhaps more snow cover to slow things down.

I think it will depend on the weather. (No duh! Good thing your’re not paying me big bucks for this.) The current fourteen day forecast is for late March to have mostly below normal and below freezing temperatures, so umm…. cross your fingers.


*the layout is different on the mobile version – try scrolling way down


May 2, 2015: Almost Gone!

Andrew Kozlowski went looking for ice this morning. He didn’t find much. The three large patches of ice that Pam and I photographed yesterday have all shrunk. The Manitou is almost entirely clear and ice cover on Bigstone Bay has dropped from 75% to 30%. The only big patch of ice remaining is the one south of the Barrier Islands, and it’s much reduced.


Scotty Island

A small patch of ice north of Scotty Island is all that remains of the ice in the Manitou.


Scotty, Middle and Hay Islands

This second shot looks east at Scotty, Middle and Hay Islands from over Mather Island. Ice that was hugging the west shore of Scotty is gone, but for three tiny floes.


Robertson Island

This is the largest patch of ice remaining on Lake of the Woods. It is south of the Barrier Islands. This photograph is centered on Robertson Island, south of Allie Island, looking east.


Allie Island, East Allie Island and the Eastern Peninsula

This is an overview of that same patch of ice, with the Eastern Peninsula stretching out from the right side of the picture. Beyond that, Andrew Bay is all open water.


Middle Island, the Hades and Hay Island

Just remnants of ice remain near Middle Island, and Bigstone Bay is more than half open.


Bigstone Bay

A closer look shows that enough ice remains on Bigstone Bay to block boats from departing Pine Portage Bay from Northern Harbour.

These pictures were taken on Saturday, late in the morning. By evening, much of this ice will be gone, the rest will be going on Sunday, and we should be 100% ice-free by Monday.

Some ice may hold out on the south end of Shoal Lake for a day or two longer.

April 7, 2015: Andrew’s Update

Andrew Kozlowski went flying on Tuesday evening, but we couldn’t get the pictures onto my computer until Wednesday evening. Here they are. Click on them to see the best detail.

The ice-road landing at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

The ice-road landing at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Town Island and Gordon Island looking north.

Town Island and Gordon Island looking north towards Devil’s Gap.

Holmstrom's Marsh.

Holmstrom’s Marsh and The Tangle.

Andrew doesn’t think there’s been much melting since he went out last week. If anything, he says there might be a little new ice.

No Freeze-Up Coverage

Thanks to everyone who has written to ask if I will be providing coverage of the freeze-up in the Lake of the Woods area. It was very nice that people thought of me, and all the requests were very polite, but the short answer is no.

There are a number of reasons for this:

On the most basic level of practicality, I do not have many opportunities to take pictures. Walsten Air is not conducting a lot of flights during the holiday season, and the days are so short that many of our flights take place during hours of darkness. My own winter vacation is another obstacle.

While aerial photography works beautifully for monitoring the retreat of the ice in the spring, it is nowhere near as good at measuring the formation of ice. The right amount of ice for boaters is none. That’s easy. The right amount of ice for snowmobile riders, ice fishers or truck drivers? Best determined by cutting or drilling a test hole, I think.

To illustrate how unpredictable this can be, let me tell a story. One winter day a few years ago, I was visiting friends who have a home on Golf Course Bay. While we watched from their deck, a guy from the snowmobile trail association came skidooing along the bay, checking the thickness of the ice here and there, using a chainsaw. He tried it near the Coast Guard dock, and as soon as the tip of the blade touched the ice, water fountained up and sprayed from the cutting edge. He beat a hasty retreat and threw Thin Ice markers out in a wide area around his test site. From the balcony where I stood, the ice and snow there looked identical to the rest of the bay, which was entirely frozen over. It’s difficult to judge, even when you are walking on it. There is no way to tell by looking at it from above.

Let me also mention one other thing. There are fools out there! Not you: people who read my blog regularly are curious, intelligent and sensible. But… some guy put his truck through the ice at the MNR landing this fall. In November! Obviously, he didn’t really understand what an ice road is, or how it works. This Wikipedia article mentions how snow clearing strengthens an ice road.

Ice Patrol could not possibly offer dependable information. Changing water levels, temperature fluctuations, and water currents all have a huge effect on the strength of the ice. If I said there were reports of strong ice somewhere, it wouldn’t mean much, especially a week later.

Have a safe winter, and I’ll talk to you all in the spring.