April 25, 2019: New Camera

Today’s photo opportunities didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. By the time we came home this afternoon, it was turning cloudy, casting huge patches of shadow on the lake and making it hard to tell what was water and what was ice. Worse, it was trying to snow, and it was very gusty. We gave up and concentrated on landing.

But there is some good news; I did get a few pictures today.  Because I have a new phone, (a Samsung Galaxy S10e) with a new camera, I took some test shots this morning to break it in and get a feel for how it works. The nose of the aircraft is prominent in these pictures because we’re climbing quite steeply.

This first shot was taken using the wide angle lens*. It’s a bit too much, I think, and it looks a little blurry, although that could have been due to turbulence. But check out Rabbit Lake to the right of centre, or Laurenson’s Lake, partly blocked by the windshield wiper arm. Both have turned very dark, and the east end of Laurenson’s, under the wiper, is melted.

*The wide angle lens does not shoot a picture with an aspect ratio like this: I’ve cropped out a whole lot of sky and dashboard from the top and bottom. It does include a wide span of terrain, though.

That greyish smudge at the right is a bug-strike on the windshield. Sign of spring.

As usual, you can click on these pictures to see a full-screen version that can be zoomed to full resolution.

Using the regular lens, here’s the standard Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay shot.

Town Island is at the left edge of the frame. Near the centre of the picture, Gun Club Island is still surrounded by ice on Rat Portage Bay, but other than the ice roads, that ice looks weak. The last areas of ice in Safety Bay are on the north side of Coney Island, and they look almost completely candled. Kenora Bay, at the right, is letting go at last. (For an explanation of candled ice, and some close-up pictures, see this post from April of 2017.)

As we turned left, Bare Point and Middle Island came into view.

There are watery patches between Bare Point and Lunny’s Island now, and you can see how the water by Town Island, off the nose of the King Air, is expanding and reaching towards Scotty Island.

A little further left, and you can see most of Hay Island as well.

Left of the nose, you can see Quarry Island, Queen Bee, Chien d’Or and Burley Islands. No water in that area yet, but zoom in and look at the Barrier Islands behind Middle Island (right in front of the plane’s nose): the water at The Elbow has expanded a lot.

I didn’t take many pictures this morning because I was more interested in what we’d see this afternoon. Then the weather turned poor on us, and I decided to wait for Friday morning. So of course I got word this evening that my Friday flight, a pilot “check ride,” has been cancelled.

Before I go, I should talk about the weather forecast a little. The snow we flew through this afternoon didn’t reach the ground, but it was the vanguard of a cold air mass. The temperature tonight is forecast to sink to 0ºC, and although we should limp back up to about 10ºC tomorrow afternoon, we can then expect several days of single-digit highs and lows sinking to around -2ºC. Those temperatures are about 5º below normal for late April, and that’s likely to put a damper on things. The lake will continue to thaw, but not at the same rate we’ve been enjoying since the middle of the month.

I’ll be talking to Ted Burton at 89.5 The Lake tomorrow morning just after 8:00.

 

April 22, 2019: Sunset Cruise

I really didn’t expect to get any usable pictures on this evening’s night training flight, but we started at around sunset and had a few minutes of twilight before it got too dark.

The first photo is a near duplicate of the Rat Portage Bay picture I took in the morning. Eleven hours later, the sun is reflecting off the water, giving strong contrast.

A little further west.

I was able to get favourable light on the islands around Yacht Club Island, so you can clearly see the open water extending from Keewatin Channel all the way into Safety Bay. Not as well lit, but still visible if you click to zoom in, the subtly shining water in The Tangle.

Then, something I didn’t expect. This next picture is a close match to this morning’s shot of White Partridge Bay. But there’s something new.

As the last sunlight slanted across the ice, it reflected off dozens of little patches of open water. I’m sure those weren’t there this morning. I couldn’t get them all to light up at the same time, but I counted over twenty little glints as we flew past. Some of them might only be surface water on top of ice, but even if that’s so, this is a spectacular change in less than twelve hours.

Next, we flew east towards Sioux Narrows.

With the sun behind us, the lighting was less helpful. Still, you can make out the water in Whitefish Narrows in this picture of Long Bay and Whitefish Bay.

Our last ice photo was this one taken facing the sunset from over Andrew Bay.

Right in the middle of the picture is the scrap of water between Middle Island and Strawberry Island. Beyond that is Scotty Island and the shining water flowing into Keewatin Channel and Safety Bay.  Queer Island is at the lower left, Railroad Island is above and to the right of it, Hay Island fills the lower right corner.

And then it was dark.

This is the waterfront looking east from Keewatin to Kenora in the distance.

Good night.

April 22, 2019: Change

Today I got a chance to see how the warm weekend affected the lake ice.

Lets start downtown, looking west at Rat Portage Bay.

Rat Portage Bay is in the middle of the picture, and at last the open water is pushing in from Devil’s Gap. Gun Club Island is still surrounded by ice, but it looks much blotchier than last week. Safety Bay, at the right, is almost entirely open now. There was still some candled ice when I drove along the waterfront earlier this morning, so I think things are changing rapidly there.

Click on any of these pictures to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

Aiming the camera a little to the left, I was able to include Town Island in the view.

Treaty Island has shifted from the left side of the picture to the right, so if you start with Rogers Island near the middle, you can work left to look at Galt Island and Town Island. Click to zoom in, and you can see that the water around Town Island is expanding towards Scotty Island, at the left by the windshield wiper arm.

Now, my first look at the Ptarmigan Bay area.

The Northern Peninsula dominates this picture, with White Partridge Bay in the foreground, near the dashboard. Follow that up the right side of the frame to look at Clearwater Bay. Ptarmigan Bay is on the left, with Fox Island just above the aircraft’s nose. I don’t see any water in this area yet, but the ice is darkening.

We turned left, to look eastward over the Manitou.

Whisky Island is at the bottom, left of center. Further back and close to the left edge is Scotty Island, with Middle Island and Hay Island behind it. Over on the right is The Elbow, with the open water between Mather Island and Allie Island spreading towards Queer Island.

Here’s the same area, but looking north east.

The Barrier Islands, with Shammis Island at the left, by the propeller blade, then Mathis Island, The Elbow, Allie Island and East Allie Island. In the back row, beyond Andrew Bay: Scotty Island, Middle Island, The Hades, and Hay Island.

Last, a check on Big Narrows. Looking south west.

Wiley Bay reaches to the right edge, and Wiley Point is close to the middle of the frame, with Big Narrows behind it. Zoom in to see Tranquil Channel and French Portage Narrows. Part of Queen Island is at the lower left corner.

Summary: four or five days of warm weather have enabled areas with current to open significantly. Places with less current, such as Ptarmigan, Clearwater and Bigstone, have seen less dramatic progress, but the ice is darkening all over.

We’re still doing better than last year, but this is the week when things started to warm up in 2018, bringing late but rapid change. Can we match that pace this year?

Multiple forecasts (The Weather Network, Accuweather, Environment Canada, and even the Weather Underground) all agree that we’ll have a few more days of warmth, and then, as we get to the weekend, it will cool off. Opinion is divided on how cool and how long it will last. Some overnight lows a little below freezing seem likely, while a stretch of single-digit daytime highs may last for a few days, or several.

If the more pessimistic forecasts turn out to be right, we could still come close to a thaw as late as last year. (Totally ice-free on May 14th). If we we don’t get too cool for too long, and benefit from some rain, we could continue to make good progress.

 

 

April 18, 2019: Progress

We’ve finally had some warm weather: temperatures have moved into double digits, with a forecast of more to come, offering hope of a string of days with above normal highs. It’s starting to make a difference.

I had an afternoon trip today that gave me the opportunity to take pictures both when I departed and when I returned. I’ve picked the best two of each.

Click on any of these pictures to see a larger, zoomable version.

I haven’t made it out to the Barrier Islands lately, so that was on my wish list.Looking south with the Big Traverse on the horizon. That blocky looking “island” at the left is actually the western end of the Eastern Peninsula. From there, track west across the picture to see East Allie Island, Allie Island, then the open water at The Elbow, then Mather Island and Shammis Island. I’m pretty sure that water at the Elbow is more extensive than last time I looked.

We carried on south for a minute longer to get a better look at Big Narrows and we got a bonus: two new patches of water! At the left side of this picture there’s water between Shammis Island and Crow Rock Island now.  Closer to the middle of the picture the current is opening things up in Crow Rock Channel, too. Further off to the south west, water continues to expand at Big Narrows.

Those were the highlights of the outbound leg of my trip.

On the way home, I was able to swing out towards Scotty Island to check on developments there. We’re looking more or less east now. At the left is The Tangle, where water’s been opening up the path into Keewatin Channel. The ice road through Holmstrom’s Marsh is clearly visible to the left of Thomson Island. There’s new water showing at the centre of the picture near Anchor Island. Scotty Island is just right of that.

I glimpsed something behind Scotty Island that made me want a better look.Scotty Island’s distinctive crescent-shaped beach is near the left edge of the frame, and yes, in the middle of this picture there’s water between Strawberry Island and Middle Island now. There’s also a tiny bit between Strawberry and Scotty. And if you zoom in to look at things further away, there’s water appearing between Middle Island and Hay Island now, in The Hades.

In summary, warmer weather has enabled water to break through in multiple areas. I also think the ice is starting to look greyer overall, although it’s hard to compare pictures taken at different times of day with different amounts of sunlight.

The weather forecast is looking more promising lately. A week or so ago, we were facing a gloomy outlook that suggested below normal temperatures would persist into May, but now the latest forecasts are calling for double-digit temperatures for the Easter Weekend and through next week. We might even manage a thundershower this Saturday. Rain would be good.

Over the weekend, I’ll probably dig through the archives to see how our recent progress looks in comparison to past years, but I won’t be flying again until Monday. If you’re interested, I’ll be talking to Ken O’Neil at Q-104 on Monday morning.

Have a happy Easter weekend. Safe travels.

 

March 21, 2019: Slush

I wrapped up yesterday’s post by saying I’d take fresh pictures today, but I didn’t expect to see much change.

Anyway, we had a bit more time today, so we flew farther out over the lake.

At first, things looked about the same. Down by Sioux Narrows, there was a tiny patch of open water in Whitefish Narrows, but everything else looked like solid ice with good snow cover.  Sorry, no picture; there just wasn’t much to see.

At Big Narrows, although a patch of slush was visible in Tranquil Channel, I didn’t make the significant detour to get a closer look, so no picture of that, either.

Most of the lake still looks like this:

This picture looks north over the Barrier Islands. Twelve Mile Portage, where the ice road crosses Shammis Island, is near the center.

Remember, you can click on these pictures to see them full-screen, and you can click on the larger version to zoom them to their maximum resolution.

As we approached town, things started to change.

This photo was taken from over Allie Island, heading north east toward Middle Island and Hay Island. But look at the slush in the foreground, west of Queer Island.

Next we swung toward Keewatin Channel. There’s more slush between Crowe Island and Yacht Club Island.

My friend Will says snowmobile trails in this area have been treacherous all winter, with lots of slush and weak ice. Here’s a closer look at the same area.

Then on to Rat Portage Bay.

Yesterday’s picture of this area only showed the water coming out of Devil’s Gap and reaching as far as Johnson Island. It actually extends to Caragana Island, and it’s working towards Dingwall Island. Usually, Rat Portage Bay holds out at this stage. The ice road is built where the ice can normally be trusted. Gun Club Island, in the center foreground of this photograph, doesn’t have the same kind of current, and is typically late to thaw.

Lastly a picture of the Kenora harbourfront.

The footbridge to Coney Island crosses the open water at the right of this shot. There’s slush on Kenora Bay downtown now, and open water between Bush Island and the hospital.

I’m encouraged by the spreading slush. It makes travel on the lake very difficult, on or off the ice roads, but we need that snow cover to darken to let the sun’s rays do their work. Warm winds would be helpful, but the best way to get rid of the snow would actually be rain.

The short-term forecast is for warm temperatures as far as Saturday, but our overnight low on Sunday night might be -13ºC, and the following week will see days that barely reach 0º. So, hmm.

You might be wondering how this year’s conditions compare to years past. I was, so I had a look. Right now, the extent of ice, and quality of snow cover look almost identical to the pictures I took this time last year. Each patch of open water I saw today is a near perfect match for March 22, 2018.

This makes sense to me: Sean’s Freezing Index is similar to last year’s.

You don’t have to take my word for this, the ARCHIVE tool on the right-hand sidebar let’s you jump to the Ice Patrol posts for March (or other spring months) of the last few years.

Recent clear skies have allowed me to update all the  SATELLITE PICTURE links.

Please note: these features of the Ice Patrol web page are not replicated in the emails, and are harder to find on the mobile version of the site.

Last year we had a cold snap in late April, and the thaw stalled, pushing ice-out back to mid-May.

The biggest difference between 2019 and 2018 is in the long-term weather outlook. We’re supposed to get above normal temperatures this spring, along with most of western Canada.

Assuming the rosy forecast plays out, we’ll not only avoid those three weeks of cold weather, we’ll have warmer temperatures for most of March and April, too.

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.

May 14, 2018: All Clear

I went flying today, and saw no ice on Lake of the Woods. You can click on this picture to view a larger version and zoom in to see for yourself.

In this photo, the nose of the King Air is aimed at Middle Island, with Hay Island to the left, Scotty Island just right of center, and Whiskey Island at the extreme right. The full span of the Barrier Islands is visible in the middle distance, and there’s no sign of the ice that was holding out in that area.

Yesterday’s satellite images were blurred, but some ice was visible. Today’s had some cloud cover, but by comparing two images, I was able to see pretty much the whole lake, and there was no visible ice, so I think even the ice down by Baudette is gone.

So I’m calling it. As of today, Lake of the Woods is ice free. The brick graph gets a magenta block for 2018 to celebrate.

This spring was one of the four latest springs of the sixteen on the graph; behind the curve, but not outrageously so.

To show the timing of the onset and conclusion of the thaw, here’s the finalized version of the floating bar graph. Each year’s bar starts on the Inflection Date (when the daily mean temperature rose above freezing) and ends on the date when the lake was ice free.

Depending on your monitor size and settings, you might want to zoom in on this to read the numbers. In summary, it shows that compared to other recent years, the 2018 thaw got off to a late start and then went fairly fast.

A quick note on other lakes in the region: all lakes in the Kenora, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout and Dryden area are clear of ice, with three exceptions:

  1. Shoal Lake, west of Kenora, still has a large patch of ice.
  2. Trout Lake, east of Red Lake, still has extensive ice.
  3. Lac Seoul, near Sioux Lookout, still has some ice near Kejick Bay.

I’ll be wrapping up the Ice Patrol for the season in the next few days. Thanks to everyone who visited this year- I had record traffic!

Special thanks to all who contributed with photos, comments or emails.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of my co-workers at MAG Canada.