May 10, 2022: It’s Going Fast

Yesterday, Ice Patrol and I took a day off, as poor weather meant I had no pictures to share. I felt a warm spell and then wind and wet weather should have made a big difference, but I had no way to see how much, and I didn’t want to speculate.

But today the sun came out, and we got some answers. Both Aqua and Terra satellites got good shots with their MODIS equipment today.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, May 10, 2022, in false colour.

There are big changes visible in the few hours between Aqua’s pass and Terra‘s.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 10, 2022, in false colour.

It looks as if the lake has lost about half of its ice. Normally, I’d say things should go fast from this point, but they already are!

The nice weather brought out the pilots, too, and I received a lot of pictures today. Tom Hutton had a chance to take a great series of pictures of the east side of the lake as he flew from Fort Frances to Kenora in sunny (but very bumpy) conditions.

You can click on Tom’s pictures to see larger, zoomable versions with more detail.

Nestor Falls.

Tom’s route brought him to Lake of the Woods at roughly Nestor Falls. Lots of water here now.

Then Whitefish Bay, which we seldom get pictures of.

Whitefish Bay.

In this shot, it looks like Whitefish Bay has entirely melted. But we need to take a closer look at the northern part of the bay.

Northern part of Whitefish Bay. Sioux Narrows is visible at the right, below the propeller blade tip.

Turns out there’s still extensive ice on the north half of Whitefish.

Whitefish Narrows.

Whitefish Narrows is just below the blade tip. These narrows are actually early to thaw, but this year it has taken some time for that open water to spread into Whitefish Bay.

West end of Long Bay and Yellow Girl Bay.

Still ice in Yellow Girl Bay. And plenty more to the north west.

The Barrier Islands and the Eastern Peninsula.

This shows almost the full stretch of the Barrier Islands. The Elbow is at the left, and French Narrows are near the middle. Lots of ice south of the Barrier Islands, which is typical. The distant ice is the Manitou.

West Manitou.

In the picture above, Birch Island is above the centre, and part of Whisky Island is at the right edge. Almost all ice here, as this is another late-thawing area.


East Manitou.

We’re getting closer to Kenora now. The curved beach at Scotty Island is just at the right edge of the frame.

Wildcat Island and Anchor Island.

Wildcat is in the centre. The foreground ice touches Hough Island and sticks to the shore of Thompson Island at the left. Holmstrom’s Marsh still looks icy.

Treaty Island.

Treaty Island dominates this picture, with Shragge’s Island just by the propeller spinner.* Notice how the ice roads are holding on between Treaty Island and Rogers Island, just above the engine nacelle.** Further left, by the tip of the propeller blade, the ice roads around Gun Club Island in Rat Portage Bay are breaking up and moving around. That’s significant, because Gun Club Island is usually late to break free.

*The shiny cover at the centre of the propeller is called the spinner. It’s like a hubcap, but very firmly attached.

**The streamlined fairings that cover the engines on a twin-engined airplane are the nacelles. On this King Air, the nacelles are painted white.

I wanted to see Pine Portage Bay, because Barb Enders sent me two pictures of Northern Harbour on the weekend. The first was taken just before noon on Friday. The second was taken on Sunday morning, just 46 hours later, and there was a spectacular change in the condition of the ice.

Pine Portage Bay.

Looks like the ice is still holding on there. At the right of the photo, you can see that Bigstone Bay is still ice-covered, too. Slow currents mean that Bigstone usually lags behind.

Our last shot from Tom shows the downtown Kenora waterfront and part of Coney Island. Thanks, Tom!

Coney Island.

There are still sizeable pans of ice south of Coney, around Goat Island and Johnson Island in Rat Portage Bay. Most years, once those were gone, the Coney Island footbridge would be removed to facilitate boat traffic. But not this year.

The Coney Island footbridge was damaged by wind and ice on Monday evening. You can read about it on Kenora Online.

So that’s one sign of spring we’ll have to do without this year, but there are others.

The first floatplane docked on the Kenora harbourfront today. River Air’s Caravan will be followed by more of their planes tomorrow. The pilots who brought it down from Minaki, Jamie Clemmens and Robyn Warken, took some pictures for me, but there were technical issues, and I’m still working on that.

Josh Broten took some pictures today, too, and they’ll round out the lake coverage with photos of the south west portion. It’s getting late, so I’ll put them up tomorrow morning.

Thanks everyone!

The weather outlook for the next while is a mixed bag, with more cloud and some showers. Temperatures will be mostly back to near normal, but with cooler conditions as the weekend arrives, naturally. Things should recover a bit a few days later.

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.



March 24, 2021: West Hawk, Clearwater and more.

There were some technical difficulties getting these photos to me, so they’re a couple of days old. They were taken in the late afternoon/early evening on Monday the 22nd, by a pair of seventeen-year-old pilots. On this trip, Arsen Yamborko was the pilot flying, and James Norris was navigating and taking pictures. I’m really happy to have these because it’s a challenge every spring to find people who are flying over the Whiteshell.

You can click on these pictures to see them full screen.

South Cross Lake, Caddy Lake, West Hawk Lake.

The Whiteshell, looking south east over West Hawk, with Shoal Lake in the far distance and a hint of Lake of the Woods on the very horizon.

Clearwater Bay, Deception Bay.

I love the late afternoon lighting on this one. McCallum Point dead center, and part of Zigzag Island at the lower right corner.

Northern Peninsula.

I had to hit the maps for this one. The Northern Peninsula’s Spruce Point is just out of the frame at the lower left. Rabson Island is the one that vaguely resembles a musical note. In the distance, Fox, Hare and Wolf Islands. Kenora is in the extreme distance at the upper left corner.

Brulé Point, Fox Island, the Manitou, Welcome Channel.

Brulé Point extends up from the bottom of the frame, Fox Island is just left of center, and Welcome Channel is above that. Kenora is again visible in the upper left corner.

Norman, Safety Bay, Coney Island.

Closer to town, this shot has Norman in the foreground, and the west end of Coney Island in the center. Further right, the ice is rotting out around Cameron Island, Gourlay Island and Yacht Club Island.

Remember, these photographs are from Monday, so the ice is surely even worse by now.

Anyway, special thanks to Arsen, James, and to Dan Zvanovec, a former contributor who got in touch with me about these photos.


March 23, 2021: Aerial Sweep

Tom Hutton and Justin Martin were out training in one of the Aero-Commanders yesterday, so they were able to circle around a bit and Tom got shots of a lot of the area around Kenora.

You can click on these images to see a larger, full screen version.

The Highways Yard on the Kenora Bypass.

Looking south west over the headwaters of the Winnipeg River. Palmerston Channel is barely visible as a dark line beyond the bridge, while Darlington Bay is easier to see beyond that.

City Works Yard, Kenora Bay.

From over Barsky’s Hill, this shot looks south. The Lake of the Woods District Hospital campus is dead center, and Coney Island stretches almost the full width of the picture.

Norman Bay, Safety Bay.

Looking south west over Norman Bay at the west end of Coney Island, with Cameron Island and Mackies Island more distant on the right.

Gun Club Island, Rat Portage Bay.

West down Rat Portage Bay, showing all the ice roads around Gun Club Island. Caragana Island and Dingwall Island are in the left foreground.

Treaty Island, Shragges Island.

South west from over Treaty Island, with a chunk of Rogers Island in the lower left corner. Shragges Island is the large oval one in the center of the frame, and beyond that, Channel Island and the Tangle.

Town Island.

Looking south over Town Island at Copeland Island and Scotty Island.

Bare Point, Lunnys Island.

This gives us a view south east down Bigstone Bay. Far beyond Lunny’s Island, you can see Heenan’s Point reaching out towards Needle Point on Hay Island.

The Barrier Islands.

Lastly, a look at the western half of the Barrier Islands chain. Allie Island is behind the windshield wiper, Mather Island and Shammis Island recede into the distance at the right of center.

When you look at this collection of photographs, you’d be quite justified to say, “But there’s ice everywhere! How can you say it’s all going to melt soon?” There are a couple of reasons why this is so.

First, Tom asked me what I would like pictures of, but I didn’t reply to his text until he was mostly done, so he just photographed everything. For the record, my answer was “Water.” At this time of year, I like to focus on those critical zones where the water is expanding, and dismiss the overall ice cover by saying “… and everything else is still frozen.” So Tom’s coverage is actually more impartial. This is what the lake really looks like.

Second, the lake doesn’t melt evenly. The thaw starts out gradually, with only a few key surface areas showing much change on a daily basis. But in the meantime, the ice is thinning and weakening: the signs are subtle, but the process is inexorable. By the time a quarter of the lake is open water, the end is just days away. Once the melt has gone that far, the tipping point has been reached, and the wind and current quickly tear the ice to shreds.

Or to put it another way, I like to start my observations when Spring just has her foot in the door. Because eager Summer is crowding her from behind, and is going to slam that door wide open.

March 20, 2021: Satellite Saturday

I have today’s satellite images, and also some pictures Jason Duguay took this morning.

Yesterday’s satellite shots were a bit blurry, so I waited until this afternoon to get the latest MODIS pics. It was worth the wait: today’s images from Terra are razor sharp.

You can’t zoom in on these images, because this is just one tiny patch of a huge composite image that spans all the way to the Great Lakes. See the FAQ page for a guide to landmarks on this photo. For a quick orientation, Lake of the Woods starts at the lower left and fills most of the frame. Cliff Island, just north of the Alneau Peninsula, is dead center.

Terra satellite’s MODIS image for March 20, 2021 in true colour.

Terra satellite’s MODIS image for March 20, 2021 in false colour.

The half dark lake near the top that looks a bit like a manta ray or a kite is Big Sand Lake, north of Minaki. In particular, it looks like Lower Black Sturgeon Lake–the skinny dark shape above the center–may have opened up. Falcon and West Hawk, the ‘bat and ball’ near the left edge, also look as if they’re changing rapidly.

I’m just going to pop a picture in from last week for comparison.

Aqua satellite’s MODIS image from March 12, 2021 in false colour.

This image from eight days ago isn’t as sharp, but you can see how the ice quality has changed. Where there were only fringe areas of weak ice, there are now vast stretches of dark ice.

Okay, on to the aerial photographs. Today’s contributor is Jason Duguay, and he grabbed these shots near Kenora from the ORNGE helicopter.

Yes, you can click on these images to see a full screen, zoomable version.

Keewatin to Channel Island.

Looking south towards Channel Island with Keewatin Bridge in the lower left. We can see that ice is yielding around Mackie Island, Cameron Island and Cross Island. Yacht Club Island is still surrounded by ice.

Coney Island Beach.

A view south over the east end of Coney Island towards Devil’s Gap. Some water pushing through the gap into Rat Portage Bay as far as Johnson Island and Goat Island. The current is strong there. The area around Gun Club Island, towards the right, is much slower to thaw.

Norman Dam, Tunnel Island, Palmerston Island.

Lastly, a look north at Tunnel Island with part of the hiking trails visible along the riverfront. Quite a bit of open water in the upstream stretches of the Winnipeg River, and it looks as if things are softening as far downstream as perhaps the Dalles.

March 16, 2021: Safety Bay & Keewatin Channel

Andy Zabloski was out again today in one of the MAG Canada King Airs and snapped some fresh shots of Safety Bay and Keewatin Channel. The resolution on these photos is not very high, so although the Keewatin Bridge is near the middle of the picture, it’s rather blurry and indistinct.

You can click on these images to see them full screen.

Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay

Looking north. This photo stretches from Mackies Island at the left to the west end of Coney Island at the right. Gun Club Island is near the foreground, to the right. Not a lot of open water in Safety Bay yet, but it’s early days.

Channel Island

Looking east down Keewatin Channel with Channel Island centered and Leisure Island in the left foreground. There’s some open water here where the current runs strongest.

The next thing I’m waiting for is the Safety Bay water to connect with the Keewatin Channel water. With warm weather forecast, that might happen within a week.

Signs of spring: saw (just two)  geese on the harbourfront the other day. Heard Canada Jays on Tunnel Island.

May 1, 2020: Rapid Change

I received pictures from three contributors today, so here they are in chronological order.

All the pictures are zoomable if you click on them to see them full-screen.

First, some fresh pictures of the south end of the lake, from Minnesota based pilot Josh Broten. These were taken in the last hours of April: the evening of the 30th.

The first picture looks south east at Springsteel and Warroad. Muskeg Bay has a lot of open water, and the ice that remains is candled and disintegrating.

Looking east over Buffalo Bay.

Looking east across Big Traverse to Big Island and Bigsby Island. Looks like open water in the distance, east of Bigsby.

Looking north over Oak and Flag Islands, with water all the way up to Big Narrows. North of Sunset Channel still seems to be ice.

Little Traverse, with open water to the east in Ontario.

Thanks Josh.

Now to the more northerly part of the lake and some pictures from the Belairs, taken today.

Twelve Mile Portage, looking north west.

And again, looking south.

Ptarmigan Bay.

Mazies Island, over the window vent, then Scotty Island, and behind that the Manitou with Whiskey Island in the distance. Ice on the Manitou looks pretty rotten.

Lunny’s Island looking west.  Scotty Island is at the left edge, Town Island is partly hidden by the wing spar at the right.

Thanks, Kelly, Ashley and Taylor.

Lastly, two pictures from Andy Zabloski, taken from one of the MAG Canada King Airs.

Overlooking Coney Island and Rat Portage Bay, with Devil’s Gap right at the blurred propeller tip.

A better look down Bigstone Bay. Lots of ice out there.

Thanks Andy, and everyone who has made Ice Patrol possible this year.

Overall, I’d have to say the ice seems to be going fast, and the rain today and tonight could accelerate that. Thaws that get off to a late start can be rapid. On the other hand, the weekend is forecast to be cool, with daytime highs in the single (Celsius) digits, and overnight lows near or below freezing.


April 27, 2020: Jason Duguay / Sean Cockrem

Here are the latest pictures from Jason Duguay, taken from the ORNGE helicopter yesterday.

You can click on these pictures to see them full-screen and zoomable. That’s worth doing, by the way: you can get a much better idea of the condition of the ice, even in the distance.

Devil’s Gap, with Goat Island and Johnson Island sitting at the edge of the ice.

Rat Portage Bay, with Gun Club Island in the middle.

West end of Coney Island, and the Yacht Club end of Keewatin Channel.

I’ve been asked about predictions. There are two ways we can do this: science, and history.

Let’s start with Sean Cockrem, who does the science.

To recap, Sean gauges how cold the winter was by totalling up the mean daily temperatures for all the days where the mean was below freezing. That gives him an idea of how the ice thickness might compare to recent winters. Based on other winters, he calculates how many warm days we might need to thaw that amount of ice. Then he goes to the long-term weather forecast (which has let us down before) to try and work out an approximate date when we should accumulate enough heat to melt all the ice.

We had a warm spell in late March, and it looked as if the thaw might be under way. Then the first three weeks of April were miserably cold. Not just below average, but mostly below freezing, and sometimes way below. If we melted a little ice in the afternoon, we refroze it overnight. So Sean’s original interpretation that we could say the inflection date–when the mean daily temperature rose to be consistently above freezing–could be pegged at March 26, had to be revised. By nearly a month! We finally turned the corner on April 22nd.

You can click on the graphs to see them larger and full-screen.

Here’s a graph that compares the severity of the last few winters.

Each winter is depicted as a downward spike. The colder the winter, the deeper the spike. And the longer the winter, the wider the spike. Last winter, at the right hand side of the graph, was not terribly cold, but you can see how it dragged on, and right at the tip of the spike is our nasty little cold snap, shaped like a little claw.

Okay, so we know what kind of winter it was. What can that tell us about the thaw?

On this graph, the lines all begin on the inflection date, but the dates shown are for this year. The idea is to show how 2020 compares to the best and worst years if you line them all up at the starting gate.

The blue line is 2020, with dots for each day’s actual mean temperature. Looking ahead, the yellow line shows how it will go if the weather forecast comes true.

Part of this prediction is an educated guess. Because we know late springs tend to melt faster than early ones, Sean chose a thaw index that takes into account longer sunnier days, instead of just blindly applying the same mathematical formula. His tentative conclusion? We still need about three weeks to get the lake entirely ice free, and we should make it just in time for the May long weekend, which is early this year, at mid-month.

Before I had Sean crunching numbers, I made predictions in a rather simpler way: I looked through my archives to find pictures that showed a similar extent of ice, and then I checked to see how long it took to melt that time.

You can do this yourself, if you like. There’s an archive tool on the Ice Patrol website that lets you look through the previous several years month by month. I have pictures from April 25th from both 2018 and 2019, and it looks as if this year is kind of in between, but roughly the same.

Here’s what I call the “Jenga Graph” it shows a stack of sticks, with each one representing a thaw starting on the inflection date and ending on the day the lake was 100% ice free. The most recent years are at the top, and 2020 is pale blue because it’s just a guess.

This graph reveals that we really did get a late start on the thaw this year. Of all the years since 2008, only 2013 had a later inflection date than 2020. That doesn’t have to mean the ice will last longer, though. Although the ice has been reluctant to melt, it was not very thick this year.

So it looks as if Sean and I agree pretty much to the day. That doesn’t mean we’ll be right, of course! We’ve been wrong before. Sigh. Almost always.

Sign of spring: the snow sculptures on the harbourfront have finally melted completely. Ice is out on Kenora Bay.

Just like every year, the lake will melt. Unlike other years, we may not be able to enjoy it much. Until restrictions for the pandemic begin to lift, very few of us will be able to get out there. Even when things start to improve, some form of physical distancing will probably still be necessary. Large gatherings will have to wait. I don’t think we’ll be tying our boats together, or sharing drinks from a common cooler, anytime soon.

Be strong. Be patient. Be healthy.



April 25, 2020: Jason Duguay / Satellite Saturday

Jason Duguay is a paramedic with ORNGE, the people with the medevac helicopter. This morning one of his trips was cancelled en route, so he was free to take some pictures on the way back to base.

You can click on these pictures to see them full-screen, and those images can be zoomed to full resolution.

Queer Island dominates the foreground of this shot that looks  ENE. Bigstone Bay is near the top left corner of the frame, Andrew Bay at the right. Quite a lot of open water bending around Queer Island and Railroad Island.

Scotty Island is in the centre of this photo, with Middle Island to the right of it. Slate Island in the foreground, partly cut off at the right edge. The ice roads are holding together, but much of this ice looks weak. At the upper left is open water near Town Island.

Thompson Island and Holmstrom’s Marsh are near the middle of this picture, and here you can see that water flowing past Town Island and through Keewatin Channel.

Keewatin Channel from the other end. I think the Keewatin Bridge is just obscured by the window frame at the lower right. Anyway, Cameron Island is near the middle of the picture, and next to it, with a streak of window reflection across it, is Mackies Island. Lots of water, here, with the nearby exception of Rat Portage Bay, at the left side of the frame.

Here’s a better look at Rat Portage Bay, with Gun Club Island surrounded by ice. That happens every spring, there’s not a lot of current through there, so the ice persists. In the foreground are the western parts of Coney Island. Still lots of ice further out on the lake.

Thanks for the great pictures, Jason!

Let’s take a look at some recent satellite imagery.

These shots are from April 23rd, because April 24th’s pictures were blurred, and today’s aren’t available yet.

If you click on this picture, you’ll see a similar photo  with some key landmarks on the lake labelled to help you get oriented. It’s an old picture from 2018: it’s just for reference.

This is the natural colour version, and near the middle of the picture you can see that open water from Jason’s first photo above. A little south west of that, there’s open water running through Big Narrows. At the south end of the lake, the Rainy River has cleared most of the ice from Fourmile Bay, and towards the top of the picture, it looks like the Winnipeg River is almost entirely open as far as Minaki.

Here’s the false-colour version of the same image. It’s a bit easier to tell the difference between cloud and ice. Thicker ice is pale blue, thinner ice is darker blue, and open water is nearly black.

Okay, that’s it for today. I know it’s frustrating for all the Ice Patrol followers that cannot come to the lake right now. Please be patient, and keep in mind that when travel does become possible, large gatherings won’t be part of the lake-life picture.

March 7, 2020: Bulletins

First, this notice from the City of Kenora, issued March 4th:

On Monday, March 9th the winter road access on Coney Island will be closed for the season.
Residents with vehicles on the island should consider moving [them] before the chain across the road is locked preventing vehicles from returning to mainland.
Thank you for your cooperation.

This marks the beginning of the end for the ice roads. If this seems early, don’t be too surprised: the Lake of the Woods Control Board has been warning of thin and unreliable ice on the Winnipeg River all winter. That’s because high flow through the Norman Dam has meant strong currents on the river, and poor ice formation.

Likewise, those parts of Lake of the Woods that have significant water flow are also likely to have weak ice. That includes Safety Bay, one of the first areas to open up because of the water flowing out of the lake and into the river.

My ice-fishing friends report that ice is generally thinner than usual, and very thin in some places. It’s common in March for the ice to be about a meter thick, so that three-foot augers sometimes cannot penetrate without an extension. This year, I hear that the ice is somewhere between two and three feet thick, except where it isn’t. One friend was drilling a handful of holes and was shocked to find that in one spot, the drill popped through ice that was only a few inches thick. Probably there had been a little patch of open water there that had only frozen over during the most recent cold snap. Then fresh snow made it look just like the solid ice all around.

Other pilots and I are observing large areas of slushy ice, and snowmobilers have confirmed this.

Sean Cockrem is working on his graphs, so we’ll soon be able to visually compare this winter to other recent ones. We expect this will confirm our feeling that this winter was pretty mild.

Regular reports on Ice Patrol will commence soon, as we are probably approaching this year’s Inflection Date, the day when temperatures start to average above freezing. More precisely, the date when the Mean Daily Temperatures begin to consistently exceed 0°C. That’s when the thaw starts in earnest.

Lastly, if you’d like to meet me in person, I’ll be talking at this year’s Common Ground, where storytellers share their special stories about their connection to Lake of the Woods.

This year there are eight featured speakers. The event is on Saturday, April 4th, from 9 am to 2:30 pm, at the Seven Generations Conference Centre, 240 Veterans Drive.

I believe tickets are $30 in advance or $35 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Kenora Public Libraries and the Lake of the Woods Museum. There’s a morning break and a lunch break.

I’ll be speaking just after 9:00, right after the opening remarks. I’ll be showing pictures and talking about how Ice Patrol began and evolved, and what I’ve learned from all those years observing the ice-out. There will be a few minutes for questions.