April 27, 2022: Clear Skies

After several days of poor weather, skies finally lifted yesterday. That brought the aerial photographers out.

Tom Lindstrom, one of my airline pilot friends, was passing overhead in a 737 yesterday, and although Kenora was covered by cloud when he went by, he found Dryden in the clear.

Here’s a look at how things are going on Wabigoon Lake.

You can click on this picture to see a much larger, zoomable version.

The only open water I can see is in the Wabigoon River. Even the smaller lakes around the Dryden Regional Airport are still ice-covered. This shows that we are still at the stage where melting is only happening due to water flow.

Tom Lindstrom has contributed photos to Ice Patrol before, and knew I was anxious for fresh shots this spring. Thanks, Tom!

We also have a new contributor. Scott Benson has been an Ice Patrol follower for years, and yesterday he sent me photographs of Lake of the Woods taken from his Piper PA-12 on skis.

You can click on these pictures to see much larger, zoomable versions.

Looking East across Big Narrows, with the twin fingers of Ferris Island near the centre of the shot.

Don’t be fooled by the subtle difference between ice and water in the distance. If you zoom in for a closer look, it’s almost all ice.

Tranquil Channel, looking north at De Noyon Island. Big Narrows Island stretches out from under the wing strut, and there’s more open water to the north of it, in the main channel.

There’s a clear pattern here. There’s only open water in passages with current. The vast majority of the lake is still ice-covered.

Redwater Bay, south of Tranquil Channel, looking east. The current has opened a little water around Kennedy Island.

The west end of Long Bay, with part of Yellow Girl Bay at the right edge. Most of these islands are nameless on my charts, except for Pewabic Island near the right edge.

Tom Bowman was the first person to specify the exact location of this photo.

Water at the north west end of Yellow Girl Bay. South Strawberry Island is at the left edge, and Fog Island is in the distance above the centre of the frame.

Several people pitched in to help me figure out the location for this photo. Thanks to Jim Richardson, David Lindstrom and Doug LeBlanc for pointing me to Yellow Girl Bay. That led me to nearby parts of Long Bay to figure out the previous picture.

Thanks, Scott. I hope you’ll send more pictures in the coming weeks.

Now, let’s talk about how the thaw is progressing. We’ve been basically stalled for a month, with little progress during April. To illustrate that point, let’s compare yesterday’s satellite images to one from a month ago.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, April 26, 2022.

 

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, March 26, 2022.

Yes, there’s a little more open water now, but in many years, the change during that month would have been profound. Sometimes, total.

Okay, so it’s been cold recently. What about looking forward? The good news is, we’ve probably arrived at the Inflection Date. Finally. The seven day forecast says we’ll have above-freezing temperatures every day, and we could flirt with double-digit highs for a few of those days. Nighttime lows will be nearly always above freezing, but not by much.

That means the air temperatures will be mild enough to start actually melting ice, and it’s about time. The sun’s rays are powerful this time of year, and the days are long, so I hope to see steady progress. That’s the good news.

Working against us are two significant factors. One, it was a long, cold winter, and we probably still have a lot of ice. Two, the refreshingly mild temperatures in our forecast are not all that warm compared to seasonal norms. An average high for today’s date would be 12.6°C. The record high, set in 1952, was 28.9°C!

The long-term forecast holds out hope for some slightly better than average temperatures starting around May 5th, but the best number on there so far is a shot at hitting 15°C on one day. That’s not exactly a heat wave.

So if we have to thaw the entire lake with only so-so warmth, it’s still going to take some time. I heard from Sean Cockrem yesterday, and he’s all set to start graphing the data based on today as Inflection. I look forward to seeing his prediction, but even with the tendency of late thaws to move fast, I’m not expecting a miracle.

April 24, 2022: Drone Shots

Another week, another storm. It hasn’t been good weather for flying, and the satellites haven’t seen much of us either. But the low clouds parted enough to let Paul Leischow get his drone aloft this afternoon. For fun, he threw in a matching photo from one year ago today.

Clicking on this pair of pictures will take you to Paul’s latest drone panorama.

Cameron Island, then and now. Looking north, with Mackies Island on the left, the east end of Coney Island  at the right, and Keewatin Bridge in the distance.

The upper frame shows a lot of greyish ice, because this weekend’s rain washed away a lot of snow cover. I know, because I’ve been pumping it out of my basement.

Which would be good news, but the storm will end with a return to unseasonably cold weather. Overnight we can expect the temperature to drop to -7°C, and any further precipitation will be switching to snow. (We wouldn’t want to run out of snow.) Monday will be unusually cold, with a daytime high of -5°C and an overnight low of about -9°C.

That  -9°C will equal the record low for April 25, set in 2002.  For perspective, Environment Canada gives average temperatures for April 25th as a high of 12°C and a low of 1°.

We might see Mean Daily Temperatures rise above zero by Wednesday, giving us an Inflection Date of April 27th. That would be the worst in my records, edging out 2013, when temperatures rose and fell and we didn’t call inflection until April 26th. As far as wishing for some above-average temperatures this month, there’s not much hope. The 29th might come close, and then we might see more normal temperatures by around May 4th or 5th. That’s around the date when the lake is entirely ice-free most years.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be one of the latest thaws in recent history.

Most marinas are still ice-locked. Not that there’s anywhere to go boating to. However, Tom Taylor says he heard that at Clearwater Bay, “water is gushing in from the Rockeries Marina culvert, and that [water at] the marina is open all the way to the public boat launch.” Can anyone confirm this?

Update on Rockeries Marina, courtesy of Jeff Byckal, via the comments form. Thanks, Jeff.

Signs of spring: I saw fresh bear tracks on Tunnel Island today. Be bear aware.

Oh, and I spotted a Florida licence plate in town a day or so ago. I thought to myself: must not be an Ice Patrol follower.

 

 

April 22, 2022: More Misery

I haven’t been posting much, because there isn’t really any news. The weather’s still cold, and it’s forecast to remain well below seasonal norms for another week or so. That puts us well on the way to the latest Inflection Date* since 2003, the year I started keeping records. It looks like we might start to see Mean Daily Temperatures above freezing in the last days of April, but forecasters don’t expect to see near-normal temperatures until around May 4.

It’s supposed to rain lots this weekend. Maybe that will help.

*See the Glossary page if you’re not familiar with this term yet.

This time last year, it was 16°C, and the ice was all but gone. See my post from exactly one year ago. I’m going to crawl back under a blanket now.

April 18, 2022: Drone Panorama

Here’s the latest interactive drone panorama from Paul Leischow.

Click on the still picture below to load the interactive video. Once it’s running, you can use your mouse to stop it, pan around or zoom in. Clicking on one of the arrow markers will transfer you to the drone panorama taken from that location.

April 17, 2022.

Apart from the fact that it’s snowing, I think the most notable thing here is that grey ice without snow on it. That’s new ice, formed since the snowstorm.  It’s pretty thin, so it doesn’t represent a serious setback, but it’s not really what we want to see in April.

This area is one of the first parts of the lake to thaw. The fact that it’s still so icy is a bad sign.

Thanks, Paul!

April 17, 2022: Aqua’s Back

After being offline for over two weeks, I’m delighted to see that NASA’s Aqua satellite is back on the job.

So we’ll have Satellite Saturday a few hours late.

If you click on these images, they won’t enlarge, but for the first few, you’ll see a version with some place labels added.

April 16, 2022 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite.

This is how the lake looks after that fresh snowfall. The picture’s a little blurry, but I don’t think that’s a problem with Aqua‘s MODIS camera. It might be due to a thin veil of cloud.

We’ve had several days of cloud and snow, so to see what the lake looked like before the snowstorm, we have to go back all the way to April 8.

That’s during the period when Aqua was not transmitting, so here’s the image from Terra‘s matching MODIS camera.

April 8, 2022 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite.

Last week, there was no open water at the mouth of the Rainy River at the south end of the lake. That’s a positive development, but it seems to be the only significant change.

Now let’s take a look at some previous years, at around today’s date, starting with last year.

April 15, 2021 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite.

Last year the lake was ice free by April 24th, so it’s no surprise that it looked very different.

2020 is worth a look because the thaw got off to a late start that year, with an Inflection Date of April 22.

April 17, 2020 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite.

2020 was a weird year. Warm temperatures in March gave way to miserable cold in early April, and we had to reconsider the inflection date, changing it from an optimistic March 26 to April 22. Even so, the ice was a lot weaker by this point.

I’ll cut to the chase and show you what the lake looked like in mid-April of 2014, the worst spring since I started keeping track. I wasn’t using satellite images back then, so this shot has never appeared on Ice Patrol before, but the University of Wisconsin keeps their entire archive online.

April 16, 2014 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite.

This shot shows an ice-covered lake, but large areas of that ice look bare, and perhaps thin. Overall, it looked better then than now, but if there’s a ray of hope, it’s that the Rainy River hadn’t started the ice away from the south shore yet. In 2014, the ice wasn’t gone until May 21.

The weather does not look promising in the short term. As I write this (in the middle of the night), we’re expecting overnight temperatures to sink to -10°C, and for today’s high to be just around zero. That won’t melt much snow, and in fact they’re predicting flurries today, with an accumulation of perhaps another 5cm.

Back in March, I thought we were heading for a latish thaw, with the lake ice-free by somewhere in the May 11-15 range. That no longer seems very likely.  To thaw the lake in four weeks, we’d need some warmer weather. Historically, temperatures at this time of year run to daytime highs of about 10°C, and overnight lows of right around freezing.  But the fourteen day outlook is for things to stay cooler than that, with more cloudy days than sunny ones. I now think it’s more likely that some ice will persist to around May 16-22. There’s a chance that this could be the latest thaw in decades.

Keep in mind that that’s for the lake to be entirely clear of ice. There should large areas of the lake open for cautious boating before then. Water-skiing, not so much.

Signs of spring: I saw a bald eagle over Cameron Bay yesterday.

April 15, 2022: Wintry Weather

“Smile,” they said, “it could be worse.”

So I did. And it is.

The forecast snowstorm came, as shown in the Wednesday and Thursday pictures above, and it looks like Kenora got in the lower range of the predicted amounts of snow. It’s shin-deep, perhaps something like 20-25cm, compared to a forecast of 20-45cm. Parts of Manitoba got far more than we did, and while there were power outages reported in Thunder Bay and Fort Frances, I’m not aware of any here.

MINOR UPDATE:

Our official snowfall for the the storm was 24cm.

There were power outages in Laclu and Clearwater.

So yes, it could have been worse. But now we have some really cold weather. This morning, we dipped to -11°C, and the wind chill made that feel like -19.

Low temperatures are going to persist for a few days, so it looks like the earliest we might see our Mean Daily Temperature crawl back up above freezing is going to be around the 19th or 20th of April.

An Inflection Date that late is not unprecedented.

Lets look at some basic stats on years with similar lasting cold.

2014: Inflection on April 19; ice completely gone by May 21.

2020: Inflection on April 22; ice completely gone by May 9.

2013: Inflection on April 26; ice completely gone by May 15.

Three years is not a lot of data to draw  conclusions from. These late thaws took from three to five weeks. That’s a pretty wide range, so I went looking for photos from around this time for each of those years.

You can click on these archive photos to see them full-screen.

Keewatin Channel as it appeared on April 16 of 2014. Safety Bay is in the distance.

The fresh snow makes me think 2014 is a good match.

Gun Club Island as seen on April 17 of 2013. Keewatin in the background.

The two pictures above show that broadly speaking, the situation was comparable to this year.

I don’t have any pictures within a week of today’s date from 2020, because the pandemic grounded me in mid-March. That was a very rapid thaw, though, and I don’t think we should put too many eggs in that basket.

The weather has not been good enough to take aerial photographs, and that goes double for satellite pictures. In today’s Terra image, Lake of the Woods is barely discernable through a thin layer of cloud. We might be able to take stock in a day or two, but Sean and I won’t really get a handle on revising our predictions until we confirm the Inflection Date.

By the way, the videos of the Common Ground storytelling event are up. If you weren’t around, or couldn’t get a ticket because of the restrictions on capacity, you can see and hear them here: Link to videos. There are some fascinating and entertaining talks there, and you can use my chat about Ice Patrol as a kind of tutorial because in addition to telling how Ice Patrol came about, I also explain some of the graphs.

 

 

April 12, 2022: Aerial Overview

Josh Broten took his new plane up to 9500 feet yesterday and photographed several areas on Lake of the Woods that have patches of open water. I think he got just about all of them.

If you click on these pictures, you’ll see a larger, full-screen version, and you can zoom in to see it at the full resolution. That makes it a lot easier to distinguish between open water and cloud shadows.

First, Flag Island, near the Northwest Angle.

Flag Island is in the center. Some open water around Flag and in between Windfall and Falcon.

Just a little further north, the Tug Channel runs up the east side of Falcon Island.

Looking NW over Tug Channel. Some open water through Johnston Passage.

Falcon Island is probably the third-largest island on LotW. The Johnston Passage is along it’s north shore.

Then towards Big Narrows.

Looking SW over Big Narrows….lots of open water.

Big Narrows always has open water early on. I don’t know if it ever freezes entirely.

I asked Josh if he could get a picture of the Sioux Narrows area, because satellites are showing a patch of water there, and some weaker or wetter ice in that area.

Looking ESE over Yellow Girl Bay and Long Bay.

This is the same spot of water that shows on the satellite images, but the rest of the ice looks about the same as everywhere else.

Over to the see the Barrier Islands now, with Kenora in the distance.

Looking north towards Kenora. Open water between Mather and Allie Island.

As usual, there’s a bit of water in The Elbow, where the current pushes through between the Barrier Islands. Further back, Scotty Island, Middle Island and Hay Island are all ice-locked.

Last, Sioux Narrows.

Looking ESE over Sioux Narrows. Some open water.

In the foreground, you can see tiny patches of water by Fire Island, just west of Sioux Narrows. Further back, there’s water under the bridge, too.

A special thanks to Josh for covering all the hot spots. As you can see, the ice is almost unbroken over the vast majority of the lake, with just those parts with strong currents showing open water. This is normal when our temperatures are mostly below freezing, and so far we haven’t been able to enjoy more than a few days of mild temperatures (or even seasonal average ones).

That brings us to the weather. By now, you will have heard that we have a big winter storm coming. It’s been working it’s way across the American mid-west, and it’ll be our turn starting tomorrow. It’ll be a lot colder than average, and we probably won’t see any above-freezing temperatures from Wednesday right through to Easter Sunday or Monday. Expect blizzard conditions starting Wednesday and lasting all through Thursday, before tapering off on the morning of Good Friday. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a number of power outages, so be prepared to hunker down.

Naturally, none of this bodes well for the spring thaw. Overnight lows are expected to drop to around -10°C for a couple of days, which is bad enough, but the  fresh snow will have a lasting effect because it will add a layer of reflective insulation that will prevent the sun’s warmth from reaching the lake ice.

In short, winter isn’t done with us yet.

 

April 10, 2022: Sunday Show & Tell

Today I offer some video files.

First up, Paul Leischow’s latest panoramic drone recording. Paul has added a new feature; on his drone flight today, he recorded panoramic views from three different hovering spots. You can see the view from near Keewatin Bridge, Yacht Club Island or Keewatin Channel, or all three.

A still frame from Paul’s drone panorama.

Click on the still picture above to load the interactive video.

You can scroll around, pan up and down and zoom in. The three viewpoints are marked with arrows, and clicking on one them will transfer you to the recording from that spot.

Paul also included a link to his drone panorama from April 10th of last year, so you can see the difference. Have a crying towel ready.

A still frame from Paul’s drone panorama from this date last year.

Same deal: click on the still picture to visit the interactive video file.

Next up, a two-minute video from my limnologist friend Hilary Dugan*. She’s at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and in this short feature, she explains what melts lake ice and how it transforms.

Title screen from Hilary Dugan’s two-minute video on melting lake ice.

*I have never actually met Hilary Dugan, but she’s been a great help with technical stuff and satellite imagery.

I did meet her parents yesterday when they attended Common Ground, a Storytelling Event.

I used part of my talk to explain some of the Ice Patrol graphs, and people commented on how helpful it was. My presentation was recorded on video, so I hope to one day provide a link.

Lastly, an interview with me, recorded by the folks at Standard Insurance for their Passionate People series. I talk to Matthew Schottroff about how Ice Patrol came to be a website.

Matthew Schottroff interviews Tim Armstrong.

Clicking on the still will take you to “Plan Your First Boat Trip of the Year with Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol” at Standard Insurance’s website.

 

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.