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.

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.

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 1, 2020: Fresh pictures

I didn’t expect to be flying this week, but I did get a trip this evening. I grabbed a couple of quick photos of the downtown area as we departed.

Remember, you can click on most of these pictures to see the full resolution, zoomable version.

This picture looks west, with Treaty Island in the middle of the frame. Just to the right of it, you can see a small patch of open water downstream of Devil’s Gap near Goat Island and Johnson Island.  Beyond Treaty Island, the sun glints off the water in Keewatin Channel, near Anglican Island.

This second picture, taken just moments later, is centred on downtown Kenora. At the left, it shows Devil’s Gap more clearly. There is extensive open water in Safety Bay, and at the headwaters of the Winnipeg River.

I tried to take more pictures on my return, but the light was fading, and the contrast was too poor.

Now for a couple of contributor pictures taken earlier.

Graham Gork took these pictures of Norman Bay just before noon today.

From downtown Kenora, it looks like vast stretches of the lake are open.

Remember, there are strong currents all along the Keewatin to Kenora shoreline, and this area opens up while the rest of the lake is still frozen.

Now some pictures from yesterday.

John Wallis writes:  “I took these yesterday about 11:30 AM [Tuesday]. The first is Western Ptarmigan Bay with Copper Island in the background. A bit of slush on the ice as can be seen with these darker areas. The road surface is in the immediate foreground and was nice and solid.
“Second is the road at Rush Bay Landing. Ice is okay, but developing potholes just before the ramp.”

So that gives us some idea of  conditions at the west end of the lake.

Josh Broten checked in again from the south. He says there hasn’t been much change, but he did take his Cub down lower for this look at the water between Falcon Island and Windfall Island.

Lastly, graph guy Sean Cockrem has been studying the data, and he says:

“I would say we hit our inflection date on March 26th this year. The forecast does show that it cools off a bit down the road but for now I’d feel safe saying we are there.

“Looking at the final freezing index, this was the warmest winter we’ve had since I started doing this type of analysis, starting in the spring of 2018 if I recall correctly. And this is one of the earliest inflection dates as well.

“All that is to say, that as long as we just see average temps, there shouldn’t be ice on the lake for the long weekend and in fact, possibly even by May 1st the lake will be open.”

I’d like to thank all today’s contributors. I’d always hoped that Ice Patrol could become a place where we could share our information, and it seems to be happening.

March 20, 2019: First Day of Spring

Time for the first pictures. Not many, because there’s not much water to see.

First up, a glance at the Bigstone Bay and Manitou areas. As always, you can click on this picture to see it full screen, and that larger image should still be zoomable.

Apologies for the weird floating propeller blade, but I had to work fast today. This photo looks west, with Hay Island dominating the picture, and Scotty Island toward the upper right of the frame. The main reason I included this shot is to illustrate the pure white snow cover. Those few darker patches are not slush, they are cloud shadows.

Onward to Keewatin Channel, where there’s some open water.

In the distance, Keewatin at the left, downtown Kenora at the right. In the foreground, Channel Island. At the right, Shragges Island. By the nose of the plane, Anglican Island and Crowe Island. Note that the water in Keewatin Channel is nowhere near hooking up to the water in Safety Bay.

Lastly, Devil’s Gap.

Open water has reached Goat Island and Johnson Island in Rat Portage Bay, but that’s as far as it goes for now.

Not captured in any of my pictures, the open water by the Clarion Lakeside Inn. It looked to me as if the pedestrian bridge to Coney Island is floating in a fairly extensive patch of open water.

By the way, if you haven’t been checking out the comments on Ice Patrol, you’ve been missing some interesting remarks on the effects of snow cover and current. Stu Everett checked how the depth of snow remaining at the Kenora airport in late March related to ice-out, and noticed a strong tendency for heavy snow to correlate to late thaws.

Mike wondered if flooding on the American side was going to lead to high rates of flow through Lake of the Woods, and if that would affect the thaw. So Stu went to the Lake of the Woods Control board data and found that water flow didn’t seem to have a strong influence.

Brian went out on the lake in a tracked vehicle and found the deep crusty snow was covering slush so bad that he turned back. He’s hoping that warmer temperatures will turn the snow cover to darker slush that will offer less insulation and reflectivity.

I’ll be flying again tomorrow. Temperatures were quite mild this afternoon, but I don’t expect to see drastic changes overnight.

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, Bare Point and Bare Point Marina are at the right. 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 13, 2016: Warmth

We have finally turned the corner. We had above normal temperatures today, and more nice days are coming. Mild nights, too.

One warm afternoon doesn’t kick spring into high gear all by itself, but there has been some progress since I last posted pictures. (Mostly because I waited nearly ten days to do it.) Here’s what I saw as I circled to land in Kenora this evening.

First up: Middle Island and Scotty Island. Yes, there’s lots of ice. All those snowfalls recently (about eight, by my count) have protected the ice from the sun’s rays.


Middle Island, Scotty Island

However, the snow is finally thinning out a bit, and rain showers in the next few days could make a big difference.

As we swung the plane northward, we saw some new patches of water between Scotty Island and Town Island, where before there was just weak ice.


Scotty Island, Town Island

This is actually a good shot down the Manitou, but it’s too early to expect water in that area.

You can click on any of these pictures to see a larger version, and click on that to zoom in further.

Next up, the Keewatin Channel as the plane keeps turning north.


Town Island, Keewatin Channel.

Besides that big patch of water west of Town Island, you can see quite a difference in the amount of water in Keewatin Channel. The shoreline of Channel Island is almost fully melted.

Time for a closer look at the Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay area.


Gun Club Island, Coney Island

Gun Club Island is just below the center of this photograph, and Coney Island is just above. Not much change in Rat Portage Bay: Gun Club Island is still ice-locked. Safety bay, in the background, is much more open than it was last week. Good progress along Kenora’s waterfront, too; the Coney Island pedestrian bridge is floating free now.

Last, a look at Devil’s Gap off the right wing as we turn east toward the airport.


Devil’s Gap.

Still ice at Devil’s Gap Marina; you can see their boat ramp and docks in the ice at the left of the water in this picture. The coast guard docks at the mouth of Golf Course Bay are visible at the bottom left of the photograph, and they’re iced in, too.

That’s it for today. There’s rain in the forecast, and rain is just what we need to strip the snow-cover off the ice. If it doesn’t rain too much, I hope to get pictures on Friday and again early next week. I’m eager to see what a run of warm weather will do.

March 21, 2016: Small Change

We’ve had a cool week, with scant hours of melting temperatures. It’s no surprise that we didn’t lose a lot of ice in the last few days. The fresh layer of snow is helping reflect more of the sun’s warmth from the ice, too.

Because things haven’t changed much, there was no real need to roam around today. I just grabbed a couple of pictures as we came in to land. We were arriving from the north, so the first picture provides an overview.

Click on these photographs to see a larger version that your browser should allow you to zoom in on.


Winnipeg River, Kenora

Dufresne Island on the Winnipeg River is at towards the right of this picture. Almost on the horizon, at the right, is Shoal Lake. Below that are Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater Bay; they’re still frozen.

I get a lot of requests from people to show this bay, or that island. I can’t really accommodate requests; my flight time is very limited. What I try to do, to be efficient, is follow the water. In the context of someone with a boat at one of Kenora’s marinas, this makes the most sense. I’m answering the question, “If I put my boat in, how far could I get?” There’s no point putting up a picture of the Manitou this week, or Bigstone Bay. There are a few modest patches of water out by the Barrier Islands, but so what? You can’t reach them!

Still, Clearwater is something of a special case: there are boat launches and marinas out there, so if it opened up, even locally, it would be significant. However, it doesn’t usually thaw until we’re making much more progress around town, where the currents are stronger. It will be a week or two before I have to worry about taking a close look at Clearwater.

Next, we scoped out downtown Kenora and Norman, to evaluate the progress along Safety Bay. Not very exciting. There’s a bit more water, but only a little.


Downtown Kenora, Safety Bay.

Just in front of the nose is the Winnipeg River, with Old Fort Island close to the center of the frame and Kenora sprawling across the left side above the windshield wiper. The River continues to open, slowly but steadily, and the water is expanding in Safety Bay, too. The best progress seems to be in Rat Portage Bay, where the current through Devil’s Gap seems to be opening things up around Goat Island and Johnson Island. Use the zoom feature to see for yourself. Maybe it won’t be too long before water reaches Gun Club Island.