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.


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 19, 2019: High Altitude

I received some pictures from airline pilots today, so I thought I’d feature the high altitude viewpoint in this post.

I’ll start with a picture I took yesterday, on descent from 26,000 feet.This image looks south. In the foreground are, from left to right, Upper Black Sturgeon, Lower Black Sturgeon and the Winnipeg River. Beyond that, the image spans almost all of Lake of the Woods, and is roughly centred on Keewatin. Shoal Lake is at the right side of the frame. Big Traverse and the US shoreline are almost on the horizon.

Now let’s look at those contributions from airline pilots. Luke Burak, who flies for WestJet, took this beautiful picture of the northern portion of Lake of the Woods this morning from about thirty miles south of Kenora and an altitude of 34,000 feet.I took the liberty of cropping this picture to eliminate a lot of sky from the top. This saves on upload time (and “cloud” storage. Snort. Sorry.) The bottom edge of this picture is the Alneau Peninsula, and there’s a great view of the open water at Big Narrows and Tranquil Channel at the left. Slightly above the centre are the Barrier Islands, and if you click to zoom in, you can see the water at The Elbow.

Lastly, a photo of Shoal Lake from airline pilot and regular contributor Matthew Render, who snapped this from the cockpit of an Airbus A320.We’re back to looking south for this one. The distinctive pair of islands near the middle are Stevens Island and Dominic Island. Probably of more interest to cottagers are Clytie Bay and Bag Bay at the left edge. At the right edge is Cash Island, and I think that’s part of Crowduck Lake in the foreground.

There’s no overlooking the fact that the lakes are almost entirely frozen, but I think we’ve turned the corner.

Both of these gentlemen have offered to take more pictures in the coming weeks, but of course the skies won’t always be clear enough for them to help.

Thanks, Luke. Thanks, Matthew.

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 17, 2019: Long Bay

We came home from around Sioux Narrows this evening, so I was able to get some pictures around Whitefish Bay.

But first, an update on The Tangle, Town Island and Scotty Island from this morning.I photographed this area just yesterday, but this picture shows things from a different angle.  Town Island is near the middle, The Tangle leads into Keewatin Channel at the right, and Middle Island and Scotty Island are at the left. The Barrier Islands stretch right across the frame in the distance, and if you zoom in, you can see the water at The Elbow.

You can click on these pictures to see them full-screen, and you can click again to zoom those images to the full resolution.

Now let’s jump to this evening and the Sioux Narrows area.Berry Lake is near the windshield wiper at the lower left corner. You’re looking roughly west with Long Bay stretching at an angle from the left edge.

There’s been a little open water at Whitefish Narrows for a while now, so I thought we should take a closer look.Whitefish Narrows is near the centre of this picture, but there’s more than one place where the sun glinted off water.

Here’s a look at Yellow Girl Bay. Open water is spreading through the chain of islands at the mouth of Yellow Girl Bay, at the left of this picture. Witch Bay reaches to the right edge of the frame, and beyond it is Bigstone Bay.

As you can see, almost everything remains frozen, but small patches of water are opening up where the currents are strong. That’s all for tonight.

April 16, 2019: Aerial Photographs

Yesterday’s post with Sean’s graphs has been updated, to show a thaw index closer to last year’s actual result instead of last year’s forecast. Also the graphs have titles now. You may need to hit refresh to see the changes.

Now six pictures from around 10:00 this morning.

I’ll start with the Winnipeg River, because we were arriving from the north.This is looking west at the Big Straight, with Minaki at the right hand edge of the picture. Although the river has quite a lot of open water, the lakes are a different story.

You can click on any of these pictures to see them full-screen, and click on that larger image to zoom to the full resolution.

A little closer to town, around Dufresne Island, facing south west.Downtown Kenora is at the left, Keewatin is above the centre of the frame, with Darlington Bay extending to the right.

Here’s a nice shot of the whole Kenora harbourfront.Kenora Bay and the LOW hospital campus are at the lower left. Keewatin is at the right. If you drive over the Keewatin Bridge, you see a lot of open water, but there’s  ice out by Yacht Club Island. Coney Island is still surrounded by ice and Rat Portage Bay is pretty solid.

This next picture shows the condition of the lake as a whole: white ice as far as the eye can see.Zoom in to look at the open water in The Tangle. Left of centre, you can see the ice does look a little discoloured out between Town Island and Scotty Island now.

Lastly, a look at Pine Portage Bay, Long Point and Longbow Lake.Sorry, but there’s no sign of any melting in this area.

I talked to someone that went ice fishing in the Storm Bay last weekend. They said there was still three feet of solid ice, with only an inch or two of softer refrozen slush on top.

This is why I’ve been pointing my camera at the river and harbourfront; there’s not much going on anywhere else. When I get a chance, I’ll try to swing by Sioux Narrows and the Barrier Islands because satellite imagery suggests there’s some water showing there, but that’s a fairly significant detour, so I’m saving that for when there’s more to see.

Satellite images were good today, especially the ones from Terra. Links updated.

April 15, 2019: Sean’s Analysis

I didn’t do a Signs of Spring post yesterday, but if you’re interested, snow is retreating wherever the sun shines, but lingering in shadowy places. I’ve seen a pair of Mallards, my first ducks of the year. Also a pigeon and a pair of Whisky Jacks. I heard a second-hand report (hearsay!) of a robin. Cyclists are emerging from their winter dens.

And now onto the main topic.

Contributor Sean C. is finally confident that we’ve reached the inflection point, the date when our daily mean temperature rises above freezing on a lasting basis. He figures this took place on Saturday, April 13th.

That means that from now on, the ice will be melting steadily.

Here’s the first of his graphs, depicting the severity of the winter.

Each of the downward spikes represents a winter, ending on the date of the inflection point. The depth of the spike represents the severity of the winter, and the width of the spike represents the duration of the ice-making period. In a nutshell, the winter that just ended was not the worst, but it was a very close match for the previous winter, which was pretty bad.

You can click on these graphs to see them full-screen and a bit bigger.

Here’s Sean’s graph comparing the way some recent winters unfolded.

2019 Freezing Index

In this figure, each winter gets a line in a different colour, and tracks across the calendar until it ends on the inflection date. A short shallow line, like 2012’s medium blue one at the top, represents a mild winter that started to thaw early. The awful winter of 2014 (which was also the deepest downward spike on the first graph) is the grey line that slopes down and down, making ice until mid April. Above that are two lines that track together at the end. The dark blue one is from a year ago, and the dark red one is this year. These years look as closely matched on this graph as they do on the first.

Okay. We’ve established that it was a crummy winter that dragged on into the middle of April. Now what?

Well, now Sean uses some math to figure out how much heat we’ll need to melt the ice formed over such a winter. He works out a thaw index based on the severity of the winter. The index lets him make predictions based on the long-term forecast, and it works like this: If a day has a mean temperature of 5ºC, we add five points to the total. If a day has a mean temperature of 7º, we add seven, and so on*. Then he works out how many of those points we’re likely to need to thaw this winter’s ice.

2019 Preliminary Forecast

Sean’s first version of this graph used the same thawing index he forecast last year: 200. However, when I asked Sean if it might be better to use the actual index of 242 that came to pass, he reconsidered, and issued a new version of the graph using an index of 240.

The amended graph now replaces the earlier version on this post. The higher index adds another day to the estimated time until we’re ice-free.

On this graph, the red line represents a really warm spring (2007) that hit 200 points in early May and the green line depicts a cold spring (2004) that took much longer. Please note: this graph isn’t about the thaw in those years, it’s just about how rapidly we accumulated enough warm weather. The very short blue line hiding in the lower left corner is 2019, with data points marked by blue dots to show the actual daily mean temperature achieved. The yellow line is what the weather forecast says we’re likely to get. If the forecast is accurate, the blue line will grow along the yellow path, and Sean will extend the yellow line as new forecasts come into effect. (There are longer forecasts, but plotting them day by day at this point would be wishful thinking)

The horizontal dotted red line indicates the target thaw index of 240 estimated for this year, while the vertical dotted red line marks the date we might reach it, based on the trend in the longer-term forecasts.

*A sort of fun thing we learned about daily mean temperatures: you might suppose that if the daytime high was 10ºC, and the overnight low was 0ºC, then the mean daily temperature would be 5ºC. That turns out to be not quite right. Actually, such a day is likely to produce a mean temperature closer to 6ºC. We seem to spend more hours near the high than the low. Perhaps this is due to spring’s long days and short nights.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll have noticed that the predicted date for reaching the target of 240 points is May 87th. May 18th is bad. It’s even worse than last year, mainly because the temperatures forecast for the next weeks are not high.

Still, there are other factors to consider.

The index itself is not precise; it’s an educated guess based on turning a limited set of  past data into a mathematical formula.

A more positive influence might be ice quality. All that snow this winter made for some poor ice. If it’s weaker and softer, it should melt faster.

Then there are the usual wild cards: rain, wind and sunshine.

In summary, this year looks a lot like last year. Rosy forecasts haven’t panned out, and a normal ice-free date in early May looks unlikely.

Plan on the middle of May and cross your fingers.