May 12, 2022: It’s All Going

I wasn’t expecting pictures today because of the heavy rainfall warning. But the weather has been better than expected so far, and I received three great sets.

Before we start with the pictures, the comments form is overflowing with people reporting that various places are open, or opening fast.

Let’s back those assertions up with some evidence. First up, aerial photos from James Hendy at River Air. He’s another of my former colleagues from decades ago.

You can click on these pictures to see larger versions that reveal more detail.

James started at Poplar Bay.

Poplar Bay.

It’s partly open, but there’s ice at the south end. Let’s take a closer look.

Poplar Bay, Welcome Channel, Wolf Island, Hare Island.

Next, James cruised out to the Manitou. The first view looks roughly south.

 

The Manitou. Whisky Island at the right, Barrier Islands in the distance.

Still ice here, and the ice roads haven’t broken apart yet. The Manitou is one of the last places to let go, but once things reach this stage of soft ice, it’s very vulnerable to wind.

Looking more to the south west shows the western stretch of the Manitou.

West Manitou. Crow Rock Island at the upper centre.

Then back towards Kenora. The ability to reach Scotty Island is a key milestone in boat access.

 

Scotty Island in the distance.

I’ve heard from BB Camps that Town Island is accessible, and it looks like you can make it to Scotty Island now. More about the beach there, later.

Thanks, James!

Our second set of photos come from contributor Scott Benson.

Over Sugar Bay looking east down Clearwater Bay. It’s open water west of here. Frozen east and south.

Scotty’s beach in foreground looking east over Bigstone Bay.

That beach is looking pretty waterlogged. I like the little cluster of ice-road fragments, though.

Looking north over Shammis Island where the main ice road crosses. This area of the lake is 90+% ice at this point.

I’ve said it before, but the ice roads are the last things to let go. This broken one shows how close we are to total ice-out.

Over Ash Bay looking east at the grouping of islands including S Island and north up Corkscrew Channel. Open around S island and frozen to the east towards Whiskey island.

There’s still quite a lot of ice out there, but it’s almost all candled. Basically it’s just fancy ice cubes (well, hexagons, actually) floating around and keeping each other company.

Just west of Victoria Island looking north at Mud Portage, and Woodchuck/Deception bays in the distance. Woodchuck and Deception are ice free.

Over the entrance to Echo bay looking east down Ptarmigan Bay, Zig Zag island in the center. Ice free north of Zig Zag island.

Looking south east at Echo Bay. About 1/2 open water.

West Hawk Lake. This ice has been pushed around by the wind for the past 3 days and won’t last long.

I have had at least one report that West Hawk Lake is wide open. Consider that if an observer was standing on the far shore, they would not be able to see this ice remnant on the west side.

Looking south over Shoal Lake. Some areas open (maybe 5-10%) ice in the middle looks white, the strongest ice I spotted today.

Oh, good. I just had someone asking about Shoal Lake. Typically, Shoal Lake’s ice lasts a few days longer than it does on Lake of the Woods. There’s a pretty big pan there, but I don’t think it will last through the weekend.

Scott was kind enough to write captions for his pictures, saving me a lot of work. Thanks, Scott!

But wait, there’s more.

Here’s a picture  of the ice at Clearwater Bay from Brendon Thiessen that came in while I was writing this post.

This was taken at 2pm today (12/05/2022). Looking Northwest from Big Duck Island toward Sugar Bay.

Brendon was using a drone to check on his docks, (they’re fine) and sent me this to show the ice. Thanks, Brendon!

I’ll finish with a set of aerial photos from MAG Canada’s Justin Martin.

We’ll start with Northern Harbour, because I’ve been curious about it for a  couple of days.

Pine Portage Bay, Sultana Island and Bald Indian Bay.

There’s water around the docks now, but before you phone Northern Harbour, take note that there’s not actually a clear route out of Pine Portage Bay yet.

From Bare Point, Looking west towards Treaty Island.

It looks as if you could take a boat out through Devil’s Gap now. There’s still a lot of pan ice, though, so you’d want to be careful not to get trapped.

Middle Island and Scotty Island.

The same applies if you try to go beyond Scotty Island. Large pans of ice, moving around because of wind and current. South of the Barrier Islands, those sheets are massive. We’ll take a closer look in a minute.

But first, Corkscrew Island, Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater Bay.

 

Corkscrew Island, looking west towards Zigzag Island.

Now the Barrier Islands, and the huge ice sheet south of them.

East Allie Island and Allie Island, looking over those Barrier Islands at the ice to the south.

Most years, that ice covered area is the last to go. Small pans of this may survive for several more days.

Thanks for these, Justin!

This last shot from Justin is a little different.

Judging by the Kenora Airport in the background, this is the Essex Road. As you can see, a lengthy stretch of it is underwater.

This is not the only road in the region to be flooded or washed out. The problem in this location is that the Winnipeg River is now higher than the Black Sturgeon Lakes, causing their water levels to rise.

It’s raining as I write this, and we have another heavy rainfall warning, so water levels in the whole drainage basin of Lake of the Woods are sure to continue rising.

As far as the ice is concerned, it’s melting everywhere, and it’s melting fast. It won’t be long now.

 

 

May 4, 2022: Startling Change

I had a chance to go flying today. Quinn Wilson, one of my former colleagues, was able to take me for a flight in one of MAG Canada’s Rockwell Aero Commander 500s.

We went for a tour of the northern half of the lake. I took quite a lot of pictures, and here’s a selection of the most informative.

You can click on these photos to see a larger, zoomable version.

Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay.

The usual shot taken shortly after take-off. At the left edge, Rat Portage Bay is showing an increased amount of open water; it approaches Gun Club Island now.

We flew west to check out Clearwater Bay.

Clearwater Bay and Deception Bay.

Most of Clearwater and Ptarmigan are still frozen over.

Deception Bay.

But there is some open water around the marina in Deception Bay.

Ash Rapids.

I wanted a closer look at Ash Rapids to see if there was more open water than yesterday. I think yes, a little.

Southwest end of Big Narrows.

Big Narrows is practically wide open now. Of course, the routes to it are still frozen.

Wiley Point.

From Big Narrows, the open water has spread as far as Wiley Point.

From there, we cruised over to look at the Barrier Islands.

Crow Rock Pass.

Spotted some open water at Crow Rock Pass, and there’s a tiny bit near Twelve Mile Portage, too.

The Elbow.

Developments around the Elbow look more dramatic. I’m sure there’s more open water here than in Justin’s pictures from just thirty hours earlier.

Queer Island and French Narrows.

And where we saw weakening ice yesterday, there are growing patches of open water around Queer Island.

Next, over to Bigstone Bay.

Eagle Pass.

There’s still just a very small patch of water at Eagle Pass.

Scotty Island, Nanton Island, Town Island.

I’m keeping a close eye on the waters approaching Scotty Island, as this is an area of dynamic change. I think there’s a visible difference since yesterday.

Lastly, a look at Devil’s gap from the Rogers Island side.

Rogers Island and Devil’s Gap.

Ice in this area always holds out longer than you’d expect. In fact, this very spot was the reason Ice Patrol started in the first place,  But there is noticeable change here, too, as the water opens up towards Galt Island.

I hope to go flying with Quinn again in a few days. Thanks, Quinn!

In summary, there was a surprising amount of change in one day. Patches of rotten ice opened up dramatically, and most areas with open water saw at least a little expansion.

The latest MODIS image bears that out.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, May 4, 2022, in false colour.

Here’s the matching shot from yesterday.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 3, 2022, in false colour.

Black patches of open water seem larger in today’s image. Although the lake is still about 95% ice-covered, whole swaths of that ice have turned darker, indicating that it is thinning or weakening.

The weather: tomorrow we might see above normal temperatures for the first time in weeks. The Weather Network says a high of 16°C, slightly above seasonal norms of around 15. Environment Canada thinks we might make it to 18°C. Friday’s supposed to be similar, but the weather will be a few degrees cooler on the weekend, and rain is expected to start on Saturday night and last a few days. I was recently reminded by retired meteorologist Louis Legal, that it’s not the actual rain that destroys ice. It’s the high humidity that comes with the rain, and the energy transferred when water vapour condenses onto snow or ice. So I expect rapid change for the next few days. We could be approaching a turning point.

The Lake of the Woods Control Board has announced that the Norman Dam will soon be going wide open. You can read the full announcement at the preceding link, but the gist of it is that there was record precipitation in April, so the lake has been rising fast and will continue to do so. The lake is already at 95th percentile levels, and it is predicted to reach the highest allowable levels by mid-May. Even at maximum flow, the dam cannot drain the lake as fast as it is filling up, so the dam will be opening all the way on May 7, in an attempt to get a head start.

Signs of spring: Loons are back. I thought I spotted some yesterday, but today I was able to confirm it with Derek, an experienced birder who has seen and heard them clearly. Oh, I guess that’s another sign of spring: the birders must be getting more active, because I met two today. On a more urban level, the street-sweepers are out. This also sparks joy, but in a less poetic way.

May 3, 2022: Signs of Progress

Well okay. The thaw has finally started.

Thanks to the wet weather, the snow in town is mostly gone. Some of the larger snowbanks persist, but streets and sidewalks are basically dry.

So what about the lake? Justin Martin was out flying at around midday today, and sent me some pictures.

You can click on these photographs to see a larger, zoomable version.

We’ll start the tour at Northern Harbour on Pine Portage Bay.

Pine Portage Bay, looking west over Bald Indian Bay.

The docks at Northern Harbour are at the lower right corner of the picture, and they’re completely ice-locked.

The next picture moves forwards and swings a little to the left to show Scotty Island and Middle Island.

In an Ice Patrol post almost a week ago, there were signs of weak ice to the south of Keewatin Channel. Wet weather since then should have made a difference. And it has.

Needle Point, the northern tip of Hay Island, is in the foreground. Behind it are Middle Island and Scotty Island. To the right are Nanton’s Island and Lunny’s Island, and Town Island is at the right edge.

Now we can see open water extending past Town Island, and reaching as close to Scotty Island as Anchor Island.

Time to check on the Barrier Islands.

Looking west over Square Island at the Barrier Islands.

The most notable thing in this view is the large patch of open water at The Elbow.  There’s more water at Queer Island, and I think that’s a new development. At the left of the picture, French Narrows isn’t showing much change yet, but all the ice in the foreground looks soft.

There’s progress down at Big Narrows, too.

Tranquil Channel and Big Narrows.

Lots of water here. Donald Duck Island is at the lower right, and this view makes it obvious how it got its name. The ice in this area looks fairly sound.

Next up, Ptarmigan Bay.

Ptarmigan Bay, with Clearwater and Deception in the distance.

The photo above shows most of Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater Bay. By and large, it’s all frozen.

There’s one exception.

Open water at Ash Rapids.

That’s our round-up for today. Thanks, Justin!

Generally speaking, the ice is softening in areas with current, and areas of open water are expanding slowly.

Warmer weather is on the way, so we can hope for more progress in the days to come.

Today’s clear skies meant that Terra got a good look at us.

If you click on this satellite image, you’ll see a version with some landmarks tagged.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 3, 2022, in false colour.

There are more patches of black, representing open water, and the land seems to have a lot less snow.

Here’s how it looked one week ago, if you want to see the change.

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

Seeing the images together also reveals how the quality of the ice has changed in a week. Notice how much darker the ice looks in the upper image. That indicates that it has grown weaker.

It’s not very helpful to look back on May 3rd of previous years. Often the lake was open by now, or nearly so. The one year that would be worth a look was 2014, another notoriously late year. I checked the archives at the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s website, and the pictures from early May of 2014 are mostly cloudy. From what I can see, the lake looked about the same. That year, Lake of the Woods wasn’t ice-free until May 21.

Signs of spring: the pelicans are back.

I think it’s time to mount my summer tires. We might actually see temperatures as high as 16°C this week. That’s a whole degree above average.

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.

 

May 7, 2019: Ding Dong, the Bridge is Gone

Caroline Armstrong texted me this morning to say the floating bridge to  Coney Island has been taken out. Here’s what it looked like from the Waterside dining room at the Clarion Inn.

This is a significant Sign of Spring, because the city removes the footbridge when the waterway is otherwise open from downtown Kenora through to Devil’s Gap.

This morning I departed from the Kenora airport without passengers, so I seized the opportunity to fly west to look at Clearwater Bay before turning on course.

You can click on any of today’s pictures to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

I’ll start with my standard shot of Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay.

The only ice visible anywhere near the Kenora Harbourfront is that little patch by Gun Club Island, seen here in the distance above the windshield wiper arm.

We climbed westward, following the Trans-Canada past Woodlake Marine.

In this photo, White Partridge Bay is tucked in by the aircraft nose and wiper. Above the centre of the picture is the ice of Clearwater Bay, with Shoal Lake on the horizon.

This is as far west as we went, with the aircraft coming up on Corkscrew Island. Clearwater, at the right, is mostly ice-covered, but the shorelines are opening up. Zoom in for a look at Deception Bay, near the blurred propeller blade, or Woodchuck Bay, beyond Deception; they’re both open. At the left, by the wipers, Ptarmigan Bay is frozen all the way to Copper Island and Victoria Island.

As we began our turn on course, we got our best look at Shoal Lake.

Off the nose of the King Air are Echo Bay and Rush Bay; both are open, but if you zoom in, you can see a little floating ice pan on Rush Bay. Shoal Lake is top centre, and the ice isn’t covering the whole lake any more. North of Cash Island, Shoal Lake is open. Clytie Bay is partly open. Zoom in and look for the three finger-like points on Clytie’s north west shore; there’s ice to the south of them, and also on Bag Bay, next door.

We turned east to look at the Barrier Islands.

In this picture, the nose of the plane is on the Western Peninsula, with the Barrier Islands leading left. The big patch of water has spread out from The Elbow, between Mather Island and Allie Island. However, in this northern part of Lake of the Woods, there’s still more ice than open water. Whisky Island is at the left, partly chopped off at the edge of the frame.

We didn’t travel towards Sioux Narrows, but I did aim the camera south east.

This picture is centred roughly between Shore Island (half surrounded by water) and Ferrier Island (iced in). Beyond them you can see Long Bay stretching off to the left. It’s mostly open, although Yellow Girl Bay is still full of ice. At the top centre is Whitefish Bay, which is almost all ice.

That covers it for this morning’s pictures. I did take a couple on the way home. Yesterday’s pictures of Dryden weren’t very clear, so here’s a better shot of Wabigoon Lake.

As we approached Kenora, I was on the lookout for any significant developments, but it had only been about ten hours, and there really wasn’t much change.

So I’ll finish where I started, in downtown Kenora. Here’s a picture of where the bridge is not seen.

As you can see, although there are some remnants of ice road floating in Rat Portage Bay, just above the wing tip, the water’s open all the way to Devil’s Gap now.

Let the boating begin. Don’t forget to check your safety equipment.

April 26, 2019: David Reid

It’s difficult for me to get as far west as Clearwater Bay, and the cancellation of today’s flight test, which could have taken us out over the lake at a good altitude, is a lost opportunity to get pictures in that direction.

Here are some photographs of Deception Bay contributed by David Reid. He sent them to me yesterday, and I think that is the day they were taken. Click on them to see them full-screen.

David says: Lots of shore line has melted… ice is very dark. Little Deception will probably be water in 4-6 days, Big Deception a little after.

I’m hoping some of my airline friends will be able to snap pictures in the Clearwater and Shoal Lake area soon, but they can’t help when it’s cloudy.

April 5, 2017: Garry Hawryluk

I had a long day at work today, and didn’t get back to Kenora until the sun was going down. So all I got was a nice picture of the sunset as we landed.

Sunset on Runway 26

But, by happy chance, Garry Hawryluk was on a WestJet flight from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay today, and got some pretty good photographs as he flew over Lake of the Woods. Garry has contributed before, and he sent these to me so I could share them with you. You can click on his photos to zoom in.

The higher altitude of the plane means a bit more haze, so you have to look a little closer to distinguish dark islands from dark open water, but here goes:

Barrier Islands to Kenora.

This first shot looks north from over the Barrier Islands. Shammis Island and Mather Island are at the bottom. Notice the large patch of open water flowing from the Elbow at the lower right. Scotty and Middle Islands are to the right of center, and Kenora is in the middle distance above and to the left of them. Open water reaches all the way from downtown to Town Island and Copeland Island now.

Hay Island.

This second photo is centered on Hay Island. Bigstone Bay and Longbow Lake are visible above it. Mostly ice out that way. But look at the lower left corner, that’s open water reaching out from French Narrows to Bald Island.

It’s hard for me to roam as far west of Kenora as Clearwater Bay, so I was really happy that Garry snapped this picture.

Clearwater, Zig Zag Island and Deception Bay.

Still pretty frozen out that way.

I’m going to try again to take some pictures tomorrow, and the weather should be good. We’re supposed to have above normal temperatures right through the weekend, so I think we’ll see steady change.

It’s getting late and I have an early flight tomorrow, so that’s all for now. Thanks, Garry!

April 30, 2016: Going…

With help from some friends, I can offer an update this weekend after all. First, the satellite overview. If you compare today’s picture with the ones from three days ago, you can see that the areas of ice are much reduced. The  mostly gray patch at the upper left is Shoal Lake. The streaky gray bit at the upper middle is Clearwater Bay, and the faint pale streak to the right of that is Bigstone Bay.  Below that is a scribble of bright white ice, and that’s closer to Sioux Narrows.

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Lake of the Woods, April 30, 2016.

Second, I received a fabulous picture of Pine Portage Bay through Twitter today. Joe Wedge tweeted me these:

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This version isn’t zoomable, but it clearly shows that Pine Portage Bay is wide open, while much ice lurks out in Bigstone Bay. Thanks, Joe! I hope it’s okay that I cropped it.

As soon as I replied, he sent three more:

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Brown’s Island, Ptarmigan Bay

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Ptarmigan Bay, Ash Rapids

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Clytie Bay, Shoal Lake

These all show areas I haven’t been able to cover this spring. Thanks again!

I got a great set of pictures from guest contributors Garry Hawryluk and Barry Mallin today, and they were just what I needed. These were taken Saturday morning.

Click on the pictures to see a larger version, and click on that to zoom right in.

I’ll start  near town, and work my way west. Garry was actually flying towards town, but through the magic of the internet, let’s pretend we can back him up.

Welcome Channel Poplar Bay Crop

Poplar Bay, Welcome Channel, Hare Island, Wolf Island

This shot looks east, with Welcome Channel and Hare Island close to the center. Poplar Bay is a little further back and to the left, and way off toward the horizon on the left is Kenora. All that ice at the right is the Manitou.

Whisky Island

Whisky Island, Slate Islands

Looking south east over Whisky Island. Did I mention that there’s still lots of ice in the Manitou? It may not look like much on the satellite picture, but the northern portions of Lake of the Woods still have extensive stretches of ice.

Birch Island

Birch Island, Ptarmigan Bay

Looking west from the Manitou  over Brulé Point towards Ptarmigan Bay, things look a little better.

Here’s one for the Clearwater crowd.

ZigZag Island Crop

Deception Bay, Woodchuck Bay, ZigZag Island

Looking East again. Deception Bay, at the left, is pretty open, but there’s still quite a lot of ice further out from the landing.

Heartfelt thanks to Garry and Barry for today’s pictures . It’s always tricky at the end of the thaw, because things suddenly start to change very fast, and it gets hard for me to keep up.

Today, I drove to Winnipeg and back. Naturally, I looked at the lakes as I went by. When I went west, at around 11:00AM, Clearwater Bay had lots of ice, much like what you can see in the picture above. Falcon Lake looked to be 50-60% ice-covered.

On my return, at around 7:00PM, things had changed a lot. Strong north winds had pushed the ice on Falcon against the south shore, and it looked from the highway as if there was only 15-20% ice cover. This is where aircraft come in so handy- they give a better overall perspective. But although it’s hard to judge accurately from just driving by, I think there was big change in eight hours.

Ice also retreated visibly from Clearwater Landing. I’d guess it had been pushed back almost to McCallum Point, but remember, I was driving by in my nice warm car, not freezing my face off in a boat for a proper look.

Overall, Lake of the Woods looks like it’s down to 10-12% ice cover. In the area just south of Kenora, it might still be close to 50%, but the ice is weakening fast. The forecast for next week is calling for warm temperatures on Monday and Friday, but cooler conditions during the week.

I’m looking forward to taking some pictures on Monday.