March 5, 2016: Preview

The temperature rose above freezing in Kenora today, and there’s more where that came from. In general, the forecast is for the rest of March to have daytime highs above freezing and overnight lows below. In my book, that means spring has begun.

I’m not rushing out to take pictures because there is almost no open water on Lake of the Woods yet. But the ice is thin. Let’s take a broad look at the ramifications.

Since I began tracking it in 2003, the most common result has been the first week of May, but there’s quite a range. I could cover my bases by saying May 1st, give or take three weeks. Here’s a funny thing- you don’t have to go very far back to see the full range of variation.

Last year was typical. The lake was ice-free on May 3rd. It was the first year I was actually able to go flying on the exact day the last ice disappeared.

Remember 2014? Ugh. That was a late thaw. In early April of that year, the ice was still more than three feet thick, and the ice didn’t go till almost the end of May. It jeopardized the May long weekend, and it played havoc with the fishing lodges.

On the other end of the spectrum 2012 had a very early melt. That year I took my first pictures on March 13th, and the ice was all gone by the middle of April. It’s extraordinary for the ice to go in less than five weeks. Although the dates vary, six weeks from start to finish is pretty standard.

Okay, enough background. What about this year?

At the beginning of March, I am hearing reports that the ice is only about eighteen inches thick, with perhaps as much as twenty inches on the best ice roads. Remember, 2014 had twice that much ice in April!

So, the most obvious guess would be that half as much ice would take half as long to melt, right? Hold on, it may not be that simple. If we threw May temperatures at it, the ice would go very fast. But it’s still early, and the weather won’t be that warm.

Where does that leave us? It would be reckless to forecast a record-breaking year. There are too many factors at play: the wind, the temperature, the water levels and the strength of the current all play a role.

The thin ice will be a big influence. While the first week of May is typical, I think we’ll be on the early side of that this year. In other words, sometime in April. To equal 2012, we’d have to start the six-week count-down right now. To beat 2012, we’d need warm nights, high winds and heavy rain to accelerate the thaw. That’s not impossible, but a wiser guess would be closer to the third week of April. There’s ample precedent for that.

See you soon!

May 20, 2014: Socked In

I was hoping to get a look at the lake today, but the airport was fogged in this morning and all our flying was cancelled.

This was the date I thought the whole lake might be open, but I doubt that it is. If any of the local pilots are flying tomorrow, I’d love to hear from them.

In the meantime, some Lake Dwellers did send in comments about their ice conditions, so click on the Recent Comments to the right to read them. It seems Ptarmigan Bay just opened up, Rice Lake and Deception Lake are open, and it sounds good for Sioux Narrows.

This has happened to me before – on the last critical days as the ice goes out, the weather goes down or there is no flying. I think it’s because for six weeks, one day is as good as the next for seeing how things are going, but right at the end, you either see it on that magical day or you don’t. Let’s hope the magic is happening.

May 18, 2014: Just a Tease

I was away all weekend doing writer stuff. Check it out at Timothy Gwyn Writes if you are interested.  Andrew tells me he has really enjoyed helping out on Ice Patrol, so he went up on Sunday and took one more.

IMG_2591It doesn’t cover a wide area, just Thunder Bay and a little bit of Pine Portage Bay, but it’s enough to see that there is still quite a bit of pan ice drifting around.

I hope to get a few pictures tomorrow, but the weather forecast is for rain showers and possibly low cloud, so it might not be sightseeing weather. We’ll see. I had a great long weekend, I hope you did, too.

May 15, 2014: The Bridge is OUT

My sources at the Inn tell me that the pedestrian bridge to Coney Island came out today. That should mean that you can reach Devil’s Gap from Laurenson’s Creek.

The lake looks so much better when the sun is shining. Here are some shots from this morning.

Don’t forget to click on the pictures to see more detail.

20140515_073746cropChannel Island, looking  roughly SE. Open water reaches parts of Scotty Island now.

20140515_073818cropTown Island, looking SE. Lunny’s Island and Nantons Island seem to mark the edge of the ice today.

20140515_073907cropThis is Bald Indian Bay, looking E with Burley Island in the middle and Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake in the distance.


But it’s not over, not by a long shot. This is Pine Portage Bay. The ice road is breaking up in the foreground, but further out on Bigstone Bay, the ice looks much stronger. I expect it to darken soon, but with the long weekend starting tomorrow…

May 11, 2014: Andrew’s Photographs

Andrew K. had a chance to swing out over the lake and take some more pictures from the Cessna on Sunday afternoon. First, one from close to town.

IMG_1859This is Rat Portage Bay, looking NE towards downtown Kenora. Gun Club Island is still completely icelocked, and with no passage from Laurenson’s Creek to Devil’s Gap there’s no point in the city crews taking out the floating bridge to Coney Island just yet. The link to the Kenora webcam will let you keep an eye on the status of the bridge, by the way.

Now let’s look the other way:

IMG_1854That’s Gun Club Island in the foreground, looking SSE over Treaty Island to Scotty Island at the very top of the picture. The ice is still holding together in Rat Portage Bay, and although you could boat through Keewatin Channel as far as The Tangle, you still could not make a landing on Town Island or Scotty.

Here’s a closer look at the farthest you can go:

IMG_1858Channel Island dominating the bottom of the picture, looking SSE at Scotty Island, which sprawls across the picture just above the center, and Andrew Bay in the far distance. No way to get a boat to Middle Island or Hay Island yet.

Lastly, because we all want to see the ice go as fast as possible, here’s a link to a cool time-lapse video that Tyler Hay sent me of the ice going out on Falcon Lake.


May 7, 2014: Rain is good…

…but not for photography.

You could click on the photograph to see a higher resolution version, but I wouldn’t bother if I were you.

20140507_155711I got to the lake at the same time as the rain. This is the best photograph I managed before I gave up. It shows the south end of Devil’s Gap. There’s a little more water, and the ice is darker. That’s all the news for today.

The wet weather will help erode ice from the surface down, I suppose.

May 5, 2014: Steady Progress

Here are some photos from Monday afternoon. Let’s start by looking south over town.

As always, you can click on the picture to see a larger, zoomable version.

ImageThe ice has let go at the floatplane docks and released the MS Kenora. Golf Course Bay has started to open up. Devil’s Gap has improved, too – it looks as if you might just be able to get a boat to Galt Island now.

ImageHere’s a picture that looks S over Treaty Island with Rogers Island at the left foreground and Shragges Island below and right of center. There is lots of water near Leisure Island, but it would be hard to actually land a boat on it. Further back on the right, Thompson Island is still locked in, and beyond that… ice. Lots and lots of ice. But there is a bit of water, way off in the distance, down by the Barrier Islands.

Lastly, for comparison, here’s a picture that shows Pine Portage Bay, home of Northern Harbour, behind Sultana Island.ImageYes, the bay is still full of ice. But it’s changing colour. Scroll down this blog to the April 21 entry to see for yourself.

May 4, 2014: Second Channel Open to The Tangle

I’m excited to show you some pictures taken by local pilot Andrew K. He got further out on the lake than I could, so let’s take a look at what he found.

First, the ice South of Channel Island.

ImageThis picture looks SW with Town Island in the bottom left, with Thompson Island, (and beyond it, Wolf Island) above it. That’s Channel Island on the right and the water is starting to reach Leisure Island, The Tangle, and near the middle of the picture, Billy Goat Island.

Click on the pictures to see them full screen and zoomable.

ImageAndrew also got this nice picture of the Devil’s Gap, looking N with the City of Kenora under the wing of the Cessna. You can see that the gap has opened up a little more, with water reaching a bit further, but not as far as Rogers Island or Galt Island.

Thanks for sharing these with us, Andrew.

Daily Satellite Pictures!

Just as I was looking for a way to show how much of Lake of the Woods is still covered in ice, I got a message from Tim K. with a link to Satellite Photos of Lake of the Woods. How cool is that?

There’s a catch, but it’s a small one: the satellite pictures are only useful on sunny days, so you have to hunt through the available dates to find a clear shot. The link above took me to an April 29 image and all the more recent ones were obscured by cloud cover. Hey, it’s been that kind of a spring.

Note: I just tried this link on my smartphone, and the page with the satellite picture was not displayed all that well. The same might apply to tablets – I don’t think the web page is optimized for mobile devices.

A Summary of Previous Spring Thaws

I just spent some time reviewing and organizing my Ice Patrol photo archives, so this seems like a good time to compare this year to previous thaws. I got my first digital camera in 2003, and quickly realized I could use it to show my friends what the ice was doing on Lake of the Woods. In those days, my attention was on one or two specific camps, so I did not document the entire thaw. This is one reason that the Previous Years links on this blog only go back to 2009. But here is what I learned looking back at some of those albums:

2003: Only thin pans of ice remained near town by May 1. I took no pictures after this date, so the ice was gone soon after.

2004: The ice was all gone by April 30.

2005: Took my last pictures on April 18. There were still ice pans, but the lake was probably clear within a week of that date.

2006: The lake was half open by April 13. Almost certainly clear before May first, but I have no later pictures.

2007: Very thin ice remained on April 25. Gone by the first of May, give or take a day or two.

2008: Extensive soft ice remained on May 7. Likely gone by mid May.

2009: By May 4, the only ice pans left were the remnants of the ice roads. Gone within days. See a sample picture.

2010: Took my last pictures on April 10. The ice was going fast. See a picture of Kenora from that archive.

2011: By May 2, only breaking pans remained, mostly further from town. See what I mean.

2012: Last ice disappearing by April 13. Here’s what Northern Harbour looked like on that date.

2013: Strong winds on May 14 savaged the last surviving pans. All gone the next day.

So what about this year? We are looking at one of the late thaws, possibly the latest of them all. Next week, if the skies are clear, I’ll try to get a photograph from up high, to show more of the lake. I expect this will still include a vast expanse of ice. Be strong, lake dwellers.

Please allow me to say a few words about how popular Ice Patrol is becoming. Thanks to websites like Walleye Central and the Manitoba Fishing Forum posting links, traffic is up. Grace Protopapas at Q104, Ted Burton at 89.5 The Lake, and Reg Clayton of the Kenora Daily Miner and News all helped with interviews and web referrals. Many local FaceBook users and some Twitter friends (I am @timothygwyn) helped to spread the word. Most of those organizations I have listed as Lake of the Woods Links not only share a love of our lake, but have helped to spread word of the Ice Patrol, too. The net result of all this support is over 2000 hits a day lately and still climbing. Thank you.