May 11, 2022: Turning Point

With half the ice gone, I stop showing where the water is expanding, and start looking at where the ice is shrinking.

Technical notes:

I have added a link to the Navionics online map of Lake of the Woods to the right-hand sidebar, next door to the Satellite links. If you don’t recognize some of the place names I use, this zoomable map is a great help. When I’m writing Ice Patrol posts, I keep it open on a separate tab in case I need to check something. This is way easier than unfolding and refolding my many marine charts.

Ice Patrol is having some of its heaviest traffic ever. Recently, it’s been averaging over 2000 visits a day. Notably, there is a higher than normal proportion of visitors from the USA. I think they’ve missed us. Come on up!

I received more pictures yesterday than I could process. Here are Josh Broten’s lovely pictures from the south side of the lake.

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

Looking SE over Buffalo Point. The ice is gone from Warroad to Buffalo and then narrows as you get to Rocky Point.

Over Buffalo Point looking NW. You can see Moose Lake is ice free.

Over Sand Point Bay looking SE. you can see of in the distance how the the lake is ice free from Rocky Point to Rainy River.

Looking NE over the NW Angle. Mostly open water from Oak Island and north.

Over Windigo Island looking NE. For the most part it is open water all the way past Tranquil Channel and Big Narrows.

Looking westward you can see Shoal Lake is still iced over.

Over Royal Island looking NE toward Kenora. Tranquil channel and Big Narrows are in the center of the picture.

Over Tranquil channel looking east over Sunset Channel.

Over Crescent Island looking north towards Kenora.

Over Yellow Girl Point looking Northerly towards Kenora. Lots of of Ice still between Kenora and the Alneau.

Another look to the west over sunset channel.

Looking east over Smith Island with Sioux Narrows in the distance. Lots of open water.

Josh is one of my favourite contributors. He edits his own pictures and even provides captions. Thanks, Josh!

Between Tom Hutton’s coverage of the east and north parts of the lake shown in yesterday’s post, and Josh Broten’s flight over the south and central parts, we’ve checked almost everything except the Ptarmigan and Clearwater Bays in the north west corner and Morson in the south east.

It looks as if we are now on track to have one of the fastest (and latest) thaws of this century. Once half the ice has melted, the remainder is floating loose at the mercy of the wind. With mid-May temperatures, it should be only a matter of days until it’s all gone. I looked back at 2014 to search for pictures showing an equivalent amount of ice cover at the same time of year, and I think we’re just five to seven days from total ice-out. A quick check of the MODIS archives from that similarly late spring suggests the same sort of timeline.

If this does become the fastest thaw in my records, there will be two main reasons. First, when the thaw starts late, it’s likely to run into warmer temperatures in late spring. So late starting thaws generally run faster than the ones that begin in March. Secondly, we’ve had an extraordinary amount of wet weather. A string of Colorado lows set records for precipitation in April and I think early May, too. And while you might be tempted to credit the rain for the rapid melt, meteorologists insist that it’s actually the high humidity that does the heavy lifting.

Signs of spring:

The floatplanes have been flocking in. River Air’s Caravan has been joined by a turbine Otter and a Beaver.

On a recent drive from the Kenora waterfront to Keewatin, I spotted another small plane near Q-104, meaning that I saw more  floatplanes in the water than boats. Most of the marinas had no boats at all at the docks, or just one or two. I expect that to change rapidly, as I have noticed a lot of boat trailers in the last few days, and the ice is letting go at many of the docks.

If you’re planning to put your boat in the water soon, don’t forget your safety equipment. Water traffic will be light at first, so if you have motor trouble you might have to wait a while for help. It is wise to take warm clothing with you.

Time for my annual reminder that when float planes are landing or taking off, they have the right of way over boats, because those stages of flight are critical. Safety Bay is a designated water aerodrome, so be alert there. Once a plane is on the water, it becomes a boat in the eyes of the law, and has the same right-of-way as other boat traffic. Having said that, floatplanes have no brakes and limited steering*, so I suggest giving them a wide berth.

*If you want to know how good a floatplane pilot is, you don’t watch them land. You watch them dock!

 

 

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.

April 12, 2022: Aerial Overview

Josh Broten took his new plane up to 9500 feet yesterday and photographed several areas on Lake of the Woods that have patches of open water. I think he got just about all of them.

If you click on these pictures, you’ll see a larger, full-screen version, and you can zoom in to see it at the full resolution. That makes it a lot easier to distinguish between open water and cloud shadows.

First, Flag Island, near the Northwest Angle.

Flag Island is in the center. Some open water around Flag and in between Windfall and Falcon.

Just a little further north, the Tug Channel runs up the east side of Falcon Island.

Looking NW over Tug Channel. Some open water through Johnston Passage.

Falcon Island is probably the third-largest island on LotW. The Johnston Passage is along it’s north shore.

Then towards Big Narrows.

Looking SW over Big Narrows….lots of open water.

Big Narrows always has open water early on. I don’t know if it ever freezes entirely.

I asked Josh if he could get a picture of the Sioux Narrows area, because satellites are showing a patch of water there, and some weaker or wetter ice in that area.

Looking ESE over Yellow Girl Bay and Long Bay.

This is the same spot of water that shows on the satellite images, but the rest of the ice looks about the same as everywhere else.

Over to the see the Barrier Islands now, with Kenora in the distance.

Looking north towards Kenora. Open water between Mather and Allie Island.

As usual, there’s a bit of water in The Elbow, where the current pushes through between the Barrier Islands. Further back, Scotty Island, Middle Island and Hay Island are all ice-locked.

Last, Sioux Narrows.

Looking ESE over Sioux Narrows. Some open water.

In the foreground, you can see tiny patches of water by Fire Island, just west of Sioux Narrows. Further back, there’s water under the bridge, too.

A special thanks to Josh for covering all the hot spots. As you can see, the ice is almost unbroken over the vast majority of the lake, with just those parts with strong currents showing open water. This is normal when our temperatures are mostly below freezing, and so far we haven’t been able to enjoy more than a few days of mild temperatures (or even seasonal average ones).

That brings us to the weather. By now, you will have heard that we have a big winter storm coming. It’s been working it’s way across the American mid-west, and it’ll be our turn starting tomorrow. It’ll be a lot colder than average, and we probably won’t see any above-freezing temperatures from Wednesday right through to Easter Sunday or Monday. Expect blizzard conditions starting Wednesday and lasting all through Thursday, before tapering off on the morning of Good Friday. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a number of power outages, so be prepared to hunker down.

Naturally, none of this bodes well for the spring thaw. Overnight lows are expected to drop to around -10°C for a couple of days, which is bad enough, but the  fresh snow will have a lasting effect because it will add a layer of reflective insulation that will prevent the sun’s warmth from reaching the lake ice.

In short, winter isn’t done with us yet.

 

April 10, 2021: Satellite Saturday / Multiple Contributors

Okay, this is going to be a long post, because several people sent me stuff.

But first, the week’s big news.

Ontario has gone back into lockdown, and this time it includes a stay-at-home order.

Here’s the wording from the alert that popped up on my phone:

A stay-at-home order is in effect. Only leave home for essential purposes such as food, health care, vaccines, exercise or work. It’s the law. Stay home, save lives.

And here’s a link to some more detailed information.

I have not found any specific wording about visiting summer residences in the new order. I have enquired, but it may take a while to get a response. The old rules from the previous lockdown were that you could: A) visit your camp for up to 24 hours to perform necessary maintenance, in which case you cannot be in contact with anyone, or B) isolate for 14 days, so you’d have to bring gas and food with you to last for for two weeks before you could go shopping.

It gets more complicated if you are visiting from Manitoba, as you might also have to isolate for 14 days upon your return, but I’ve been told this needn’t apply as long as you adhere to the Ontario requirements while here.

Here’s an excerpt from the Manitoba government website that was updated on April 8:

As per the public health order, 14 days of self-isolation is required for people returning or coming to Manitoba from all jurisdictions.

Now back to a more comfortable topic: the weather. The NASA satellites got good images on April 6, and then it turned cloudy until today.

Here’s what things looked like on Tuesday the 6th.

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

Aqua satellite’s MODIS image from April 6, 2021, in false colour.

Today’s images haven’t been uploaded yet.

In the meantime, I have a picture from Devon Ostir, whose dock cam on Hare Island looks out on the Manitou.

With the exception of the satellite imagery, you can click on today’s pictures to see a full-screen version that is zoomable.

Next up, a drone shot of Keewatin Channel, courtesy of Paul Leischow.

I chose this specific shot from over Crowe Island because it shows that the water is open all the way to Keewatin. Actually, there’s a whole 360° panorama, and you can view it here if you want to scope out Rat Portage Bay or the Tangle from this vantage point.

Now photos from Josh Broten, and they are very revealing.

Over Buffalo Bay looking east to Garden Island.

Looking east at the big ice patch between Garden, Big, and Oak Island.

Over Windfall Island looking north between Falcon Island and the Western Peninsula.

Looking SW over Bishop Bay with Shoal Lake in the distance.

Over Skeet Island looking NNE.

Over Yellow Girl Point looking SE down Long Bay.

Aside from the huge stretches of open water, the key point is that all over the south end of the lake, the ice has separated from the shore. It’s still in enormous sheets, but it will start to break apart into pans soon.

Further north, where there are more islands and less vast stretches of water, the progress does not look as dramatic, but it’s following a similar path.

In case you missed it, regular commenter Stu Everett pointed out the other day that when current through the lake is slow in  winter, the ice forms to a more even thickness all over the lake, and sets up a situation where the big slow-moving parts of the lake are melting almost as fast as the places that usually have more current.

Before I forget, special thanks to all the people who sent in pictures or messages today.

The first of today’s satellite images is available.

Terra satellite’s MODIS image for April 10, 2021, in false colour.

Pity about the cloud cover [low altitude cumulus clouds at the left, made of water vapour, high level cirrus clouds with more ice at the right] but you can see the same trend photographed by Josh.

UPDATE: Aqua’s image is up.

Aqua satellite’s MODIS image from April 10, 2021, in false colour.

Still some cloud, but it’s moved a little, revealing different parts of the lake.

The big question is: have we reached the tipping point? Once the ice breaks up, the end is very near, because wind action becomes a major factor. I think we’re almost there.

So naturally, the forecast is for some cool temperatures. The Weather Network has revised the fourteen day forecast since I last talked about it, and it now shows Monday as the coolest, with temps hovering around the freezing point all day. After that, daytime highs may run a little below normal for the next two weeks, while overnight lows are kind of 50/50.

Will the ice go? Your guess is as good as mine.

May 3, 2020: Tipping Point

Yes it snowed last night. Not a lot, but I had to scrape the car windows.

Yesterday, I talked about the trade-off between strong winds and low temperatures. When the lake is ice-covered, wind doesn’t make a lot of difference, so the near-freezing temperatures would win out. But once the lake is about one third open, wind can push the ice around and break it up. I wasn’t sure how this would play out while conditions were so cold, but the wind won.

My first clue was a comment from Minnie, who wrote to say she saw nothing but open water from the south shore. She was down by Morris Point and Warroad. Now you can’t see all that far from the shore, but Josh Broten takes his Cub up to ten thousand feet to get pictures from the US side, and from there, you can see a long way. Here’s what he got this afternoon.

You can click on these pictures to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

Big Traverse

So Minnie was right on. Not a scrap of ice to be seen on the south end of the lake.

Moose Lake

Moose Lake Provincial Park (middle distance) and Birch Point (foreground) are in the Manitoba corner of Lake of the Woods. No ice here, either.

Looking north east from the Northwest Angle

Clipper Island is at the lower left of this shot, Cochrane Island is almost touching the left edge, and Big Narrows is in the distance. That far-off ice is up towards Wiley Point, somewhere around Cintiss Island

Looking northeast  from over Falcon Island.

Beyond Falcon Island lies French Portage Narrows. At the left of the frame, near the wing strut, is Big Narrows. That’s the same patch of ice in the far distance.

 

Shoal Lake

I love this shot of Shoal Lake. There’s still a giant patch of white ice around Dominique and Stevens Islands, but the lake looks to be over half open, not just on the south shore, but also in the northern parts near the Trans-Canada highway.

In case you were wondering, it takes a long time to climb to ten thousand feet in a Cub. Thanks, Josh.

The Aqua and Terra satellites didn’t get a clear look at Lake of the Woods today, but skies cleared enough this afternoon for Aqua to get a partial view.

2020 False colour image from May 3rd. MODIS camera on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

What we can see is all that open water at the south end, and the patch of ice on Shoal Lake at the left. Subtle, but visible, is ice near Hay Island. The part of the lake south of the Barrier Islands is very hard to see. I think there’s some ice there.

Compare this to the clear and sharp image from April 30th.

2020 False colour image from April 30th. MODIS camera on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Same satellite, same camera, just three days ago!

That’s why this post is titled Tipping Point. Once the ice is more than half gone, it goes suddenly.

However, if it seems cool to you for May, it is. A normal high this time of year is about 15ºC, and an average overnight low would be about 3ºC. Forecast temperatures continue to run cooler than that, with this week getting no warmer than 10ºC and perhaps only reaching  4º on Thursday. Overnight lows could dip as low as -4ºC.

Will we be able to melt the lake with those kinds of temperatures? Yes. But I’m not sure how rapidly. With normal temperatures, I’d expect the remaining ice to be gone in a couple of days, which would put us in the early May bracket, which is pretty common. With this forecast, I’m less sure, but I think we’re on track to do better than the May 14th thaw that Sean and I both predicted just a week ago.

We might be ice free by next weekend. Which is forecast to be cold, by the way. So far, the Weather Network is calling for highs of just six or seven next weekend.

And if that’s not enough to discourage you, remember that Ontario is not moving to lift pandemic restrictions as fast as Manitoba or Quebec, and Premier Doug Ford is flat-out asking out-of-province visitors to stay home. Here’s a link to Kenora Online‘s page with that story.

 

March 30, 2020: Josh Broten

I received these photos on the afternoon of March 30th, but they were taken on the 29th, by Josh Broten, who flies a Cub out of Rosseau, Minnesota. These pictures were taken from the US side, down near the Northwest Angle.

Above, a view from south of Falcon Island looking NNE.

You can click on these pictures to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

Cropped N7645A 20200329 Photo 2View from SW of Oak Island looking NNE.

Cropped N7645A 20200329 Photo 5View E of Oak Island towards Splitrock Island with Bay, Poplar and Skiff Islands in the foreground.

Cropped N7645A 20200329 Photo 6View SE of Oak Island of the Big Traverse towards Big and Bigsby Islands.  Garden Island at the center of the photo.

These photos make it clear that there’s a lot of ice, and it’s mostly in good condition.

Josh sent pictures last year, too, so let’s hope he keeps flying. Thanks.