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 30, 2018: The Heat Goes On.

We continue to exceed our forecast highs. We made it to twenty degrees yesterday, and it’s warmer than that today, so I was excited to get into the air for a look.

On departure from the Kenora airport, we flew west to get a look at the downtown area.

It’s hazy, but if you click on the image and zoom in, you can see that there’s been progress. Ice is vanishing from the north bays of Coney Island and the flow through Devil’s Gap is pushing further into Rat Portage Bay and closing in on Gun Club Island.

Because this was a training flight, we could fly straight west for a while, so we went to check out Clearwater Bay.

As we approached Rheault Bay, we could see most of Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater.

We carried on for a look at the west end, where the satellite images have been showing very thin ice. It looks a bit more substantial close up, but there are lots of holes.

Next, we worked our way down to Big Narrows.

The picture above looks south east across the narrows at right angles. It’s very hazy, so the details are blurred, but if you zoom in you’ll see most of the narrows is open.

I tried to get better light by turning north east to photograph the downstream end of Big Narrows.

We worked our way up to the Barrier Islands to see how things looked there.

Still travelling north east, we’re looking over Oliver Island at the Devil’s Elbow. Lots of open water there now. That red blotch is a bug strike on the windshield. Think of it as a sign of spring.

Lastly, back towards town.

This is the view of Keewatin Channel from the south, but I took the picture from further away this time to show all the new water out by Town Island at the right side of the frame, around Thompson Island at the left, and around Anchor Island and its neighbours closer to the wingtip.

Summary: there’s still lots of ice, but holes are opening up everywhere there’s current.

What does all this warm weather do to the timeline on our thaw? Good question. As recently as last week, we were having a mix of days that were either warmer or cooler than normal, so I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that we were thawing fast. Now we’ve had a string of three days in a row that reached well above normal temperatures. That should make a noticeable difference, but will it knock three days off the thaw? The forecast for the next while is less rosy, so I’m waiting to see what actually happens.

Which is what I told myself last week, when this current warm spell was forecast to be less dramatic and shorter lived. I hope to hear from Sean tomorrow, and I’ll be interested to see how this looks on his graph, because that will give perspective on how much difference these recent warm days should make.

A late addition to this post: Tim Seitler took some pictures of the south end of Lake of the Woods from an airliner descending into Winnipeg from 40,000 feet. These show the Buffalo Bay and Buffalo Point areas.

I like how the top picture shows the clear sky above the haze layer.

Still lots of ice down there. Tim sent high-res photo files, so you can click on them to zoom in, just like mine. Thanks, Tim.


April 23, 2018: What a Weekend!

It was a warm weekend; at one point we hit 15.7°C, which I think is the first time we’ve seen an above normal temperature since sometime in March. It was also windy, which helps when it comes to melting ice.

At six o’clock this morning, I started my day by heading down to the ice road landing at the Kenora MNR.

This is what it looked like at dawn. The ice at the shoreline was so thin I easily punched through it with my hiking staff. I hear two trucks went through the ice this weekend, but I haven’t had time to look into when or where.

At eight o’clock, I made a hasty appearance at Q-104 to talk about the ice conditions and the effect the warm weather has had.

At nine o’clock, I flew north, and took some pictures on the way out of Kenora.

Airborne off runway 26 and heading west, this is downtown Kenora in the foreground. The picture is roughly centered on Coney Island, with Rat Portage Bay to the left. There is much more open water now, especially in Safety Bay, right of center.

Around two o’clock, we came home again.

This shot shows how much the Winnipeg River has opened up. The main channel has opened up north of the Dalles pretty much all the way through to Minaki.

The satellite images have been showing thin ice at the west end of Clearwater Bay.

Don’t forget you can click on this picture to see the larger, high resolution version, and you can zoom in on that for a better look at Ptarmigan Bay and the far end of Clearwater.

I also wanted to check out the water by the Keewatin Bridge.

There’s just a little rotten ice between Safety Bay and Keewatin Channel now.

Here’s the same area seen from the south as we turned towards the airport.

Looking north at the Keewatin and Norman waterfront. That’s Crowe Island on the wingtip, and I think that passage could be open tomorrow.  If things look a little odd to the right of Gun Club Island, it’s because one of our pesky propeller blades photo-bombed the shot.

All in all, an excellent amount of progress for one weekend. There’s been an encouraging change in the fourteen day forecast at The Weather Network. For next weekend, instead of highs of about 7°C, they’re now calling for 11° on Saturday and 17° on Sunday. I take this as a personal favour, because my sister is visiting from England. Before and after that, though, there’s still talk of below-normal temperatures, and I hate to tell you this, but the first days of May might bring a mix of rain and snow showers.

I hope all these swings will average out and leave us roughly on track.

April 17, 2018: Warm & Windy

We had sunny weather today, with a high of 7°C this afternoon. Better yet, it was breezy, with winds of up to 20km/hr from the north east.

It wouldn’t be realistic to expect one nicer day to make a big difference, and most of the photographs I took today look just like the ones I took yesterday, so I’ll only put this one up.

This is looking south over Devil’s Gap with Treaty Island stretching from near the center to the right edge. Beyond that, lots of ice out by Rogers Island, Town Island and so on. Zoom in, and you can see the ice roads still look pretty solid. Rat Portage Marina is visible at the lower left, (partly obscured by the digitally distorted propeller blade) and there’s still ice all around the docks.

However, to my eye, the ice looks distinctly more gray today. It’s not glaringly obvious in the photographs, but with the picture above you can zoom in on the lower right corner to check out the ice surface around Gun Club Island, and you might agree that it looks patchier.

Terra Satellite got a clear image today, so I have updated the satellite link. Usually the first patch of open water on Lake of the Woods big enough to “see from space” is down by Baudette, Minnesota, where the Rainy River spills into the lake and creates a dark patch on the south shore. That hasn’t happened yet.

The temperatures tomorrow are forecast to dip slightly, which will likely put Wednesday’s mean daily temperature right at the freezing point, but from Thursday on, we should be consistently trending warmer through to the end of April. Not fabulously warm, or even normal, but almost always above freezing, even at night.

That should mean we’re switching from making ice to melting ice. Finally.


March 23, 2018: Whitefish Narrows

I was out yesterday, so just two quick pictures today.

First, I had some enquiries about the Sioux Narrows area.

This is the view looking west, with Long Bay stretching diagonally up from the lower left. The only open water anywhere in this picture is a tiny patch at Whitefish Narrows, near the center of the picture. You’ll have to click on the picture and zoom in to really see it. Whitefish Bay, Yellow Girl Bay and pretty much everything else is still frozen.

I doubt we have 1% open water on Lake of the Woods as a whole.

For a ray of hope, I’m throwing in this close-up of the open water closer to Kenora.

Looking north at Keewatin, we have Rat Portage Bay in the foreground, with Gun Club Island at the right edge of the photo. Like yesterday’s shot of this area, you can see that open water just reaches the west end of Yacht Club Island, near the center of the picture. There’s no great change in one day.

My real reason for including this shot is to show that the quality of the ice-or at least the snow cover on it- is deteriorating, with more slushy gray patches. This is easier to see than yesterday, when a mix of sunlight and cloud shadow made it hard to tell what you were looking at.

By the way, the ice roads look much darker today than when I started taking pictures ten days ago.

Random signs of spring: I saw some bear cubs a week and a half ago. No seagulls yet, but Caroline spotted three geese today.


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.

April 20, 2017: Tipping Point

It’s been a whole week since I could upload pictures, so I’m very glad I could take some new ones today. A lot has changed.

We have reached the tipping point. In the early spring, I take pictures of patches of water surrounded by ice. When we reach the halfway point, my pictures start to be of the ice/water boundary areas.

Okay, let’s go.

Longbow Lake, Pine Portage Bay, Bigstone Bay.

This first shot looks south west. Longbow Lake is at the left, Pine Portage Bay is more to the right, and the big patch of ice is Bigstone Bay. Note that Longbow is completely open. In Pine Portage Bay, Northern Harbour has some water to work with, but you cannot yet sail out of the bay onto the rest of the lake.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version that’s zoomable to full resolution. That’s especially handy if you want to see something in the distance.

Next, we moved straight ahead to get closer to Hay Island.

Bigstone Bay, Hay Island.

Thunder Bay, home of Smith Camps, is at the left, with Long Point separating it from Pine Portage Bay, but Northern Harbour is just out of sight under the plane’s nose. There’s open water in those small bays, but as usual, ice in Bigstone Bay is holding out, making it tough to reach the area around Middle Island and Hay Island.

We went a little further to get a good look at Middle Island and Scotty Island.

Middle Island, Scotty Island.

The water’s wide open all the way to Scotty Island now, although a little pan ice is clinging to the north shore. Middle Island is mostly open, but it would be tricky to reach it from the east side. In the distance, you can see that Andrew Bay is open, but  there’s still lots of ice south of the Barrier Islands. Also notice that the Manitou is only open as far as Whiskey Island. Beyond that, the ice looks quite strong.

This next shot shifts the view to the right, looking more directly west.

Whiskey Island, Wolf Island, Thompson Island.

Town Island is just to the right of the aircraft’s nose in the picture above with just a little ice trapped around Galt Island. Roger’s Island and Treaty Island are open.

Let’s take a closer look at that area.

Treaty Island, Coney Island, Kenora.

We’ve climbed quite high now, so this shot shows the whole area from Galt Island at the lower left corner, past Treaty Island near the center, to downtown Kenora at the right. Devil’s Gap is clear, and the ice is all gone in  Rat Portage Bay, with Gun Club Island wide open.

Next, a different view of the Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake area.

Bald Indian Bay, Pine Portage Bay, Longbow Lake, Bigstone Bay.

This time we’re looking south east, so you can see all of Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake, and the far end of Bigstone Bay. The ice on Bigstone still looks pretty sturdy.

This last shot covers downtown again, but I’m including it because it looks west and offers a better view of Darlington Bay, and in the distance, Clearwater Bay and Shoal Lake.

Rat Portage Bay, Safety Bay, Darlington Bay, Winnipeg River.

We didn’t have time to fly further west, so Garrett snapped this shot from the pilot’s side while I took the controls for a moment. Darlington Bay is open. In the distance, Clearwater still has quite a bit of ice, and from the looks of it, Shoal Lake is still mostly frozen, at least the south part.

At the time I took these pictures, the pedestrian footbridge to Coney Island was still in place. You can just make it out behind the wing if you zoom in on this shot. But now that the ice is not an obstacle to boat traffic, the bridge will be coming out.

As we left town behind, we got rather too high to get good pictures, but we noticed that both Upper and Lower Black Sturgeon are open, while Silver Lake still has ice. Even further north, in my old float-plane stomping grounds, Maynard Lake and Oak Lake are about half open.

What does all this mean, in terms of how long until all the ice is gone on Lake of the Woods? With huge stretches of the lake open, the wind is able to really drive the ice and break it up.

I looked at some past years, and hunted for pictures with about the same amount of ice remaining. I would say we are now about ten days ahead of 2015 and 2016. That suggests that we have only a few days to go. Under ideal conditions, we could see the ice disappear this weekend. But. The weekend forecast is for single-digit highs, and overnight lows below freezing. Let’s just say within a week, and cross our fingers.