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.

May 11, 2018: Remnants Persist

Yesterday I said the weak ice between Scotty Island and Whiskey Island would be gone overnight. Wrong! Garry Hawryluk passed overhead on a WestJet flight at 6:00 this morning, and managed a few pictures at dawn. The light was poor, so I’ve enhanced the contrast on this one to make the ice more visible.

What I like about this photo is it shows the full span of that ice sheet south of the Barrier Islands. But if you look just above the big expanse of ice, you can see that the small patch in the Manitou survived the night. It did dip below freezing last night, but I think a bigger factor was that the wind died out: without wave action, the candled ice did not break up or blow away.

My own nefarious plan was to hold off on taking pictures until this afternoon, so I could say, “it was gone when I looked.” Unfortunately, it was still hanging on at 3:00pm.

This picture is centered on Town Island. Click on it to see a larger image, and click on that to zoom in, and you can see that small pans of ice still persist on the Manitou.

At full magnification, you can also see a boat passing by Lunny’s Island. The water is so smooth you can trace the wake all the way back to the Hades!

This picture shifts over to the left to show more of Bigstone Bay and Hay Island. Zoom in on this one and you can see a tiny forlorn patch of ice clinging to Needle Point, just left of the center of the picture. But the real reason I took this photo is I wanted to show the larger sheet of ice in the distance. The top right corner of the picture shows the area south of East Allie Island, and that big expanse of ice there is still, well, big. It looks set to hold on a bit longer.

Now that the thaw is almost complete, Sean and I are looking forward to finishing up our graphs for 2018.

Here’s Sean’s latest version of the prediction graph.

We reached a Thaw Index of 200 today, which Sean guessed (several weeks ago!) would be enough accumulated heat to melt all our ice. It turned out to be a very good guess, especially for a first attempt. Sean used temperature data from past years to work out a relationship between how cold a winter was and how much warmth it takes to melt the ice. That didn’t give him a magic number, it gave him a range. He still had to choose whether this year’s thaw would be rapid or sluggish. He went with a swiftish prediction, and chose a thaw index of 200 as his best guess. (A thaw index of 200 means that starting on the day the temperature averages above freezing, we add each day’s mean temperature to a total. When it adds up to 200, we hoped to be ice free.) Because it was late in the season, I also felt that the thaw would be fairly rapid, but it looks as if the ice won’t be 100% gone until we climb a bit higher than 200.

Remember, my method in previous years was to take aerial photographs and compare them to my archived pictures, and look for the ice to melt at roughly the same pace as those previous years. In other words, I didn’t even try to factor in the forecast, unless it called for a significant run of good or bad weather.

The trick with using long-term weather forecasts to graph mean temperatures in advance is: they’re forecasts, and they go wrong. This April, forecasts were calling for miserable weather. And they were right, at first. Then as May arrived, we started to get much warmer weather than predicted. Changes to the weather forecast meant changes to the ice-out date, but not to the desired index.

I won’t be flying again until Monday. Will I find any ice at all by then? We’re looking at a warm weekend. I’m guessing not.

May 8, 2018: Good News!

I didn’t go flying today, but my co-workers at MAG Aerospace did. They had a long day, arriving home just in time to catch some pictures in the evening light.

First home were John Sweeney and Andy Zabloski. Andy flew, John took pictures.

Blindfold Lake shines in the foreground of this picture looking west at Bigstone Bay with Hay Island in the distance. To the left, Andrew Bay looks open, but south of the Barrier Islands looks like there’s a huge area of ice remaining. Click on these pictures to see the high resolution version that you can zoom in on.

In this second shot, the plane has moved closer to Route Bay. Bigstone Bay is almost entirely open. The most ice is between Hay Island’s Needle Point and the mainland’s Heenan Point, and it’s just soft pan ice.

Hay Island, Moore Bay, Bigstone Bay. More water than ice now.

Scotty Island is just above the aircraft’s nose, and beyond that is the Manitou. Whiskey Island is still ice-locked, but all the ice looks soft and ready to disintegrate. Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater look open, and I had a comment from scowtan2015 this morning to say that Clearwater’s ice blew out last night.

Town Island in front of the King Air’s nose this time, and everything is open around Treaty Island, Rogers Island and Galt Island now.

The next batch of pictures came from airline pilot Matthew Render, a regular guest contributor. He supplies me with pictures of Shoal Lake.

Matthew took these at six o’clock this evening; the pictures look north. The first one shows the west shore of Shoal Lake: everything is clear north of Twin Points including Rice Bay, Snowshoe Bay and Indian Bay. I’m not so sure about the north shore: cloud cover makes it hard to see if there’s ice or not.

Matthew’s second photo has Dominique Island in the foreground, and there’s still plenty of ice in view, but Matthew says it retreated a lot in the twelve hours between his morning flight and his evening flight today.

Caroline talked to a guy from the Sioux Narrows area this morning, and he said Long Bay cleared out last night.

Summary: vast areas of Lake of the Woods are open now, and the remaining ice is weak and floating loose, but cloud cover blocked the satellite cameras today, so we can’t get an overview of the whole lake.

More pictures are coming from my co-workers. Two other MAG Aero crews landed after Andy and John did. They’ll send me pictures this evening, and if their photographs cover different areas I’ll get them up late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

Thanks to everyone who pitched in to help with Ice Patrol today!

April 25, 2018: Rapid Progress

The weather has stayed warm and windy, and it’s making a big difference to the ice. The long-term forecast still anticipates a cool start to May, but for now we’re melting ice while the sun shines.

I’ll start with two pictures taken as we climbed out of Kenora this morning.

That’s Rabbit Lake beside the nose of the aircraft. If you’ve ever wondered why it has that name, compare the shape to a chocolate Easter bunny. It’s distorted by the low angle, and the ears don’t show well, but you can get the idea. Click on this picture to see a larger version that will let you admire the open water stretching all the way from Keewatin Channel at the left to well down the Winnipeg River at the right.

Our second shot looks west down Treaty Island. This picture was hastily taken as we started to turn on course, so naturally I cut off Safety Bay on the right edge and buried Devil’s Gap under the nose. That’s Rogers Island right on our nose, and beyond that you can see water opening up in the Tangle. Still plenty of ice in the Manitou, of course.

Fast forward to our return this afternoon.

This is Whitefish Bay, down by Sioux Narrows, looking west. It’s hazy, and the lighting is flat, so at first I thought all those ripples by the windshield wipers might be open water… but no. Click to zoom in, and you can see cracks in the underlying ice; that’s surface water. Further to the right, there is real open water at Whitefish Narrows, and it has expanded in the last few days.

 

This is Witch Bay in the foreground. Above and to the right are Andrew Bay, Pipestone Bay, Hay Island,  and Bigstone Bay. The ice is much darker, and it looks weak.

Let’s go to the satellite imagery, Bob.

The image above is from yesterday. The image below is from today.

There’s a thin veil of cloud, but that ice looks a whole lot darker. Also, the Rainy River is eating ice at the south end. Falcon Lake and West Hawk look transformed.

To see a comparable natural-colour satellite image with some features labelled, click here or visit the FAQ page.

We’re doing much better than I expected a week ago. Instead of a mild weekend followed by below-normal temperatures, we’ve had several days of average or better warmth, with steady wind and strong sunshine. That could shorten our thaw by a few days.

The long-term outlook is improving, too. While the fourteen day forecast is still calling for a cool start to May, it now talks about returning to normal conditions by the second week, so  although we may still get some cooler weather, it looks as if it could be short-lived.

Will we get set back by a spell of cooler, cloudier weather, or do we dare hope?

 

 

April 9, 2018: So Much Ice

I didn’t have the opportunity to head very far out over the lake today, but I didn’t need to.

Ice. Ice everywhere.

This first picture gives an overview.

Looking west: Longbow Lake dominates the foreground of this picture, with Pine Portage Bay and Sultana Island behind it.  Blindfold Lake is at the left edge. Zoom in to look closely at Bigstone Bay, and you’ll realize those gray patches are not slush, they’re just cloud shadows.

Let’s move a little closer to town.

Nanton’s Island and Lunny’s Island are the pair at the bottom left edge, then Town Island above and to the right of them. Keewatin Channel is in the center of this photograph, and the open water there still doesn’t connect to Safety Bay. In an average year, it would.

Zoom in, and you can see there’s a lot of new ice on Safety Bay. I am dismayed at how much has refrozen, and at how thick that fresh ice looks. It’s not just a thin skin.

After I turned back to the airport, I got a better look at Longbow. Like all the local lakes, it’s frozen from shore to shore.

Overall, there’s been no progress now for about three weeks. In fact, April has been so cold that we’ve made new ice where the water was open in March, so we’re actually moving backwards.

Worse, the forecast for the rest of April is for below-normal temperatures. We will see afternoon highs above freezing, but a normal high this time of year is more like 9°C, and there’s not one day forecast to hit that mark in the next two weeks.

While some ice will melt in the next while, we’ll have to catch up on thawing the new ice before we start making progress on the old stuff. And I’m still hearing reports from ice fishers that they’re bottoming out their augers on strong winter ice.

How bad could it be? My photographic records go back to 2003, and 2014 was the worst year I have in my archives. That year, the last ice on Lake of the Woods didn’t go until May 21. It was a spring so bad I didn’t start posting pictures until mid-April.

By the end of this week, we should be able to make direct comparisons to photographs from April 13, 2014. Here’s the ugly part. I’ve been looking at those pictures. We need to make some progress this week to match them.

 

April 4, 2018: Philip Vrsnik

I’ve been out of town for most of the last two days, so I’m playing catch-up. I’m uploading this on April 6, but I’m dating it April 4, because that’s when the photos were taken.

On Wednesday, I went flying in the afternoon, but it was snowing pretty hard, so I couldn’t take pictures. Luckily, Philip Vrsnik passed overhead in the morning, before the snow started. Here’s what he sent me.

Philip was on the right side of the eastbound plane, so he’s looking south. This photo is centered on Shammis and Crow Rock Island, the western pair of Barrier Islands. Whiskey Island’s distinctive Y shape marks the Manitou. Most of what you see in the foreground is the Northern Peninsula.

You can click on Philip’s pictures to see a larger, zoomable version.

Next is a look at the area closer to Kenora.

Dead center in this picture is Middle Island, with Hay Island behind and to the left, and Scotty Island in front and to the right. The vertical line of shining open water more to the lower left is Devil’s Gap, and the water at the bottom of the picture, by the wisps of cloud, is Safety Bay.

Last, a shot of some of the eastern bays.

At the bottom left, Northern Harbour’s docks on Pine Portage Bay are visible. Above that, Bigstone Bay, Hay Island, Moore Bay, Andrew Bay and Witch Bay. In the distance, Long Bay, and stretching to the top of the picture, Whitefish Bay.

Thanks again to Philip Vrsnik, who sent me these pictures.

You’ll notice there’s next to no open water to speak of. Snow cover is patchy, but none of the ice has really started to darken.

I don’t have any pictures from Thursday; I got home late and it was cloudy. I have no flights on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but I’m back in the air on Monday. Since they’re not forecasting any above freezing temperatures until then, I don’t think I’m going to miss much.

The fourteen day forecast is currently showing below normal temperatures right through to April 20, and not every day in the coming two weeks will rise above freezing. As springs go, this is shaping up to be a late one.

 

 

April 21, 2017: Ashley Kolisnik

Scroll to the bottom  of today’s post for a Friday afternoon update.

Ashley took these pictures and sent them to me yesterday, but for technical reasons, I didn’t receive them until today.

The best part is, I just had a comment from someone who was curious about Lunny’s Island and Bare Point. This drew my attention to the fact that I had flown all around both places without taking a clear shot of either. But Ashley did.

Scotty Island, the Manitou.

This is a close-up of Scotty Island, looking south west down the Manitou toward Whiskey Island.

Town Island

The second picture is shows the Manitou from a bit further east, with Town Island in the right foreground, and Scotty Island and Nanton’s Island under the propeller blade. Bell’s Island and part of Lunny Island are just above the aircraft’s nose.

Bare Point Marina, Bigstone Bay.

Bare Point itself is just off the right edge, but this is a great shot of the Marina, looking out over Bigsby and Queen Bee Islands and south east along Bigstone Bay.

Thanks, Ashley.

One other cool thing: Bill Whicher contacted me to show how the False Color images from the MODIS satellites make it really easy to distinguish the ice on Lake of the Woods. Heavy ice is a lovely turquoise colour. Thin or rotten ice doesn’t show up as well. For that, you want the True Color image. Both links are to images from April 19th, when skies were clear.  It looks as if the lake is down to about 10% strong white ice cover, with weak dark ice probably amounting to a further 10-15%.

 

Thanks, Bill.

4:00PM Update: Today’s satellite pictures just came out. They show ice nearly all gone.

True Color April 21      False Color April 21