May 8, 2018: More Good News!

I got pictures from two more co-workers. Tom Hutton and James Biesenthal were flying together, and they both took pictures.

First, the ones from Tom Hutton.

The classic Keewatin waterfront shot to get us started. No more ice in Safety Bay.

Here’s a closer look at Crowe Island, Anglican Island and Channel Island. They’re all clear, but there’s ice out past Thompson Island.

This third picture shows Gun Club Island in the left foreground, then Treaty Island and Roger’s look joined together by the low angle. That’s Town Island in the middle distance, left of center. Beyond it, by Nantons Island, there’s still ice.

Now some pictures from James Biesenthal. There’s some overlap with Tom’s pictures, but I’ve selected a few that offer a different view.

This is the Winnipeg River, looking south with Locke Bay spanning the frame in the background.

Further south, James photographed the west channel of the river, with Keewatin in the distance.

Then Darlington Bay with Keewatin in the center of the picture.

Then from over the Keewatin bridge, this shot of the cluster of islands that include Mackie’s, Cameron, Cross, Kalamalka, Gourlay and Yacht Club islands. Further right, Turnbull Island and Rheault Bay. You’d have to zoom in to see the distant ice on the Manitou.

The last shot is of Treaty Island, with Shragge’s to the right of center and Channel Island at the wingtip. More to the left are Rogers, Galt, and Town Islands. There’s still enough ice to block passage to Scotty Island, but it won’t last long.

Monday’s high was 28.3°C, but Tuesday was quite a bit cooler, reaching just 13°C. By Wednesday night, the Weather Network forecast says we’ll be dipping down to 1°C, and rising to just 9°C on Thursday. I don’t think it will matter much: for Lake Dwellers near Kenora, the lake will be navigable.

Although cool, Thursday should also be sunny, so the satellite photographs will show if there’s any ice remaining by then. Some ice may persist on the south part of the lake for a few days longer. Shoal Lake is going fast, so it might go at the same time Lake of the Woods this year.

In case you missed seeing the reports in the comments section, Clearwater Bay is open, West Hawk Lake is open, and down by Sioux Narrows,  Long Bay is open.

April 26, 2018: A Pretty Picture

I went flying before sunrise this morning, and came home to land at eight o’clock in the morning, just as a layer of cloud was breaking up. The lake looked beautiful.

To help you get oriented, Scotty Island is above the center of this picture that looks south west. Zoom in and you can see the beach. Burley Island and Queen Bee Island are in the left foreground.

This second shot is centered on Channel Island, with Leisure Island just in front of the aircraft’s nose. That patchy lighting from morning sun shining through a scattered cloud layer is pretty, but it makes it hard to tell water from ice. Clicking on the picture to see  it in higher resolution will help. Keewatin Channel is almost wide open to a point south of Shragge’s Island, and that patch of open water at the bottom right corner extends nearly to Billygoat Island.

One last photograph as we turned to line up with the airport.

Looking north toward Coney Island, with Devil’s Gap Marina near the middle of the picture, and Golf Course Bay at the right. Off the wingtip, water is pushing from Devil’s Gap out past Johnson Island and Goat Island.

Despite an overnight low slightly below freezing, the ice continues to deteriorate rapidly. Most of the ice is very dark now, which means not only is the snow cover gone, but also that water is seeping into the ice through fine cracks.

I wrote to Sean, the guy that makes graphs based on the mean temperature and thawing index, to ask if the visible changes are apparent in the data. He sent this.

This is an updated version of a graph he created last weekend. The steep red line represents a very fast thaw from 2007. If we could match it, we’d have an ice out around May 8, but that’s kind of a best case scenario. The green line uses data from a much colder, slower spring in 2004. (It would have taken a long time to melt thick ice that year.) More realistically, the yellow line is our forecast weather. Sean reckons we’ll need a thawing index of about 200 to melt the thick ice that formed over our cold winter, and the forecast takes us to that point around May 18th. The blue dots represent our actual progress this year. For now, we’re managing to stay close to the fast track.

As we head into the weekend, I’m looking forward to photographs from guest contributor and pilot Andrew Kozlowski tomorrow. Weather permitting—it might be blustery and showery—he’ll try to take pictures of Clearwater Bay and a few other areas.

April 3, 2018: Refrozen

This time last year, we were enjoying daytime highs of about 11°C, and overnight lows above freezing. There’s nothing that warm forecast for the first half of April, and lately, we’ve been coming close to the record low temperatures.

This morning, I saw that much of Safety Bay had refrozen over the Easter weekend.

Things looked a little better this afternoon, but there’s more freezing than thawing going on right now.

Looking south from Dufresne Island, that’s Highway 17A, the bypass, at the bottom left. Note the fresh grey ice near the bridge. Looking further south, you can see Tunnel Island and all of Kenora from downtown on the left to Keewatin at the right edge.

Now a closer look at the Norman to Keewatin stretch of Safety Bay. Don’t forget you can click on these pictures to see them full-screen and zoomable to full size.

If you do zoom in, you’ll be able to see quite a lot of new ice, although it looks pretty thin and weak. By this afternoon, it was breaking loose from the old solid ice.

There still isn’t an open waterway from Safety Bay to Keewatin Channel. There’s open water around Channel Island, but it hasn’t even started to extend past Shragge’s Island yet.

This next picture overlaps with the last, but shows more of the area near downtown.

Coney Island sprawls across most of the photograph. In the background, Devil’s Gap still has only a little water, with no new expansion into Rat Portage Bay. Beyond Treaty Island, it’s solid ice as far as the eye can see, with bright white snow cover.

This isn’t going to melt fast, and there’s still a week of cold weather ahead before we can hope to start making progress again. Comparing today’s pictures to photographs from past years, I see a lot of similarities to how things looked in early April of 2013.

That would suggest an ice-free date close to May 15, and we’d need a big swing to above-normal temperatures to improve on that.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m beginning to feel like a groundhog: six more weeks of winter.


March 22, 2018: First Shades of Grey

Just a quick update today. James and I had the opportunity to swing out over the lake before lining up with the runway at Kenora’s airport. I’ll begin with an overall perspective.

This photograph is centered on Middle Island, looking north towards town in the distance, so those are the Hades islands in the foreground, and the northern tip of Hay  Island at the very bottom of the picture. Scotty Island is above and left of center. As you can see, it’s all frozen, and still has good snow cover.

Next, the latest on Keewatin Channel.

The open water has reached Shragge’s Island. If you click to zoom in, you can also see that water is reaching out from Keewatin to the western tip of Yacht Club Island.

That’s only one of the reasons I included this photograph. It’s subtle, but the snow-cover is losing its pure white colour and developing faint patches of pale gray. I’m not talking about the big cloud shadows. You have to zoom in to see them, but there are tiny patches of scruffier snow, the first signs that the cover layer is starting to yield.

Last, as we turn towards the airport, a quick look at Devil’s Gap.

Looking east along part of Treaty Island, with a little bit of Gun Club Island at the lower left, we can see that water is beginning to spread from Devil’s Gap towards Rat Portage Bay and Gun Club Island, but the ice roads there still look strong. So do the roads around Roger Island, right of center. Note: Gun Club and Rogers are both late melters. The ice roads run near them for a reason.

Loosely speaking, places closer to town with strong currents go first. Examples: Safety Bay, Keewatin Channel and Scotty Island. Places further out, especially those with weak currents, go later. For instance: Bigstone Bay and the Manitou. Please keep that trend in mind when you’re wondering why I’m not photographing your area yet. I’m probably waiting for it to start showing signs.  A few distant places have current, and go early, but you can’t get there by boat until everything melts between them and your boat launch. Example: Big Narrows. Shoal Lake goes last, typically four or five days after the last ice on LotW.

There’s one other factor: it’s easier for me to fly near the Kenora airport because I’m always going there to land. I get fewer opportunities to range as far afield as Clearwater Bay or Sioux Narrows, but I do make an extra effort when things start to melt in those areas.

I just looked back at my pictures from this time last year and the year before. We’re nowhere near where we were on March 23, 2017, (an early year) and not as far along as March 21, 2016, (a typical year), either. But I think I’m prepared to start the six-week countdown now. That doesn’t mean I think we’ll be ice free in exactly six weeks, which works out to May 3rd. It might be possible, given favourable conditions, but I think somewhere between the 6th and the 10th of May would be easier to believe, given a typical range of weather. If you find that disheartening, bear in mind that that’s a guess at when Lake of the Woods might be completely ice free. If your camp is closer to town, you may not have to wait so long.

March 13, 2018: Let’s Take A Look

I had a training flight Tuesday that let me roam out over Lake of the Woods to get the lay of the ice.

Here’s the short version for those of you checking in from far away: the lake is 99% frozen. I’m not quite ready to start the six-week countdown yet.

Here’s a photograph that shows the overall condition of the lake. It also clearly shows why these are called the Barrier Islands. The plane is over the Manitou, heading south west, and the ice road cuts between Shammis Island on the left and Crow Rock Island on the right.

Remember, you can click on these pictures to see the full-resolution version, and the larger picture is also zoomable. Also, when you float the mouse over the pictures, you should see the pilot and photographer attribution.

While I was taking the picture above, I noticed some patches of open water down by Big Narrows, so Tom and I headed down to take a look.

This shot, with Big Narrows Island at the left and the Western Peninsula on the right, gives a clear example of how the ice goes first where the current is strongest.

Time to turn north east and head back towards Kenora.

We’re still near Big Narrows. This is the ice road that runs between Kennedy Island on the left and Skeet Island on the right. Kenora is way off near the horizon, left of center. Did  I mention there’s lots of ice?

Let’s go look for some water. That’s basically how Ice Patrol works, by the way. I observe the progress of the thaw by seeking out the expanding patches of open water.

Keewatin Channel always opens up early. This picture looks north with Keewatin in the background.  There’s a fair bit of water around Channel Island. Over the wingtip is Roger’s Island, and beyond that, Treaty Island. In the distance (don’t forget you can zoom in) you can see Coney Island and an open stretch of Safety Bay.

We’ll take a closer look at that.

Looking east down Rat Portage Bay gives a different angle, with Keewatin Channel now at the right, and Safety Bay on the left. Norman is on the left shore, and downtown Kenora is in the distance, left of center.

Of course, one more place where there’s guaranteed to be a current is the Winnipeg River.

This picture looks north at The Dalles, with Minaki and Big Sand Lake almost at the horizon.

I usually kick off the Ice Patrol when there’s a bit more open water in Safety Bay, so this flight was more about having the opportunity than really getting started in earnest. It’s certainly too early to make predictions, but I’ve noticed an increase in the number of Ice Patrol visitors lately, so I know some of you are getting anxious.

We had a strange winter, with multiple extreme cold warnings in late December, January and February. (For this region, warnings are issued when the wind-chill values work out to around -40°) I would have expected really thick ice, but we started the winter with some heavy snowfalls in early December that may have insulated the lake against the deepest cold. When the ice is really thick, my ice-fishing friends notice because their augers bottom out, but I haven’t been hearing that this year.

So far, March is much milder, so maybe we won’t have a late thaw. This is not a prediction. It’s a HOPE.

A couple of other notes. First, thanks to those of you who stopped by the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada to hear me talk about Alternative Aviation. It was fun to meet some of my blog followers.

Second, the company I work for has changed ownership. Formerly, we were known as Walsten Air, and were part of Discovery Air. Now we are part of MAG Aerospace, and we answer the phone as MAG Canada. We have new decals on the plane, but we’re the same great outfit.

I’ll have a number of training flights in the next while, but keep in mind that the initial stages of the spring thaw move slowly, so there’s no urgency to update every day or two just yet. Stay tuned, and if you’d like an email when Ice Patrol has new info, you can click the FOLLOW button. I do not share email addresses with anyone.

That’s it for now, except to say to all of you, welcome back!


April 3, 2017: Boats

Friday didn’t have good weather for photography, and I didn’t fly on the weekend, so it’s time for an update. Maybe I can make your Monday a little brighter.

First picture: Northern Harbour and Bigstone Bay.

Pine Portage Bay, Bigstone Bay.

As you can plainly see, there’s still plenty of ice out there. I’ve included this picture because when I select pictures that all show open water, people get the impression that everything is melting. Not so.  This image has been digitally edited to remove an intrusive propeller blade near Northern Harbour. You can still click on it to zoom in, but you may see some blurry patches around Fantasy Island.

Next stop, Keewatin Channel. Figure of speech: we didn’t actually stop. We were making a quick circle over the part of the lake near town before landing.

Town Island, Keewatin Channel.

In the picture above, Town Island is at the left, with Galt Island straggling across to the right. Behind those are Keewatin Channel and Channel Island. Notice how, in the shadow near the center of the picture, the ice road past the Tangle goes over some very rotten ice now.

We saw a few boats in this area. One is visible in the photo of Keewatin Channel below, between Shragge’s Island and Channel Island.

Remember, you can click on these pictures to see a larger version, and click again to zoom in on that one, too.

Channel Island, Keewatin Channel, Shragge’s Island.

Next, a closer look at the area around the Keewatin Bridge.

Keewatin, Safety Bay.

The Keewatin Bridge is close to the upper left corner of this picture. As you drive across the bridge, there’s open water almost as far as the eye can see. Which is why you need me to give you an aerial view and burst your bubble.

After that, we turned east to head for the airport.

Coney Island, looking east towards Kenora with Safety Bay on the left and Rat Portage Bay on the right.

Safety Bay is clearing out nicely. Rat Portage Bay, not so much, but at the upper right corner of this picture, you can see water reaching out from Devil’s Gap towards Gun Club Island.

Another shot of that from a different angle. I always like to keep tabs on Devil’s Gap, because it’s such a major route to the lake for so many boaters.

Golf Course Bay, Devil’s Gap.

In the picture above, which looks south, Golf Course Bay is right at the wingtip. Above that, you can see Rat Portage Marina and Devil’s Gap with the open water falling short of Roger’s Island.

And lastly, one for old times sake. I’ve been taking pictures of Treaty Island since at least the spring of 2003, and giving verbal reports since long before that.

Shragge’s Island, Treaty Island, Roger’s Island.

Photographing the Biggar’s camp there was what got the whole Ice Patrol started, in the days before I had a digital camera. You can thank Linda next time you see her.

The temperature hit a balmy 14ºC today. The forecast says we’ll see more typical temperatures for a few days, and then hit double digits again for the weekend. I’m not scheduled to fly Tuesday, but I’ll try and take pictures later this week.

I’ve updated the Recent Satellite Photograph link to one of today’s pictures. The ice has darkened dramatically.