May 8, 2020: Sentinel

I often post satellite images from the MODIS cameras on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. The University of Wisconsin at Madison posts fresh images every day, and the highest available resolution is 250 metres to a pixel. That means you can see features as small as Kenora’s Round Lake, or Gun Club Island, but they’re just dots.

Today, Hilary Dugan, a limnologist from Madison, sent me a satellite picture of Lake of the Woods taken yesterday by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite. It’s at much higher resolution: 10 metres to a pixel. You can see roads.

Naturally, I was eager to upload this image to Ice Patrol, but I cannot: it’s too big! It’s about forty times the size of my average photo. It would take all night to upload, and it would pretty much wipe out my remaining storage space at WordPress. So I can’t show you the whole lake at maximum detail. But I can show you the bit with ice remaining on it.

You should absolutely click on this picture to see it full-screen, and then click again to zoom it to the full resolution.

The last two patches of ice on Lake of the Woods.

At the top right corner of the frame is Northern Harbour. The ice on Bigstone Bay is clearly visible between Heenan Point on the mainland and Needle Point on Hay Island. You can even see  remnants of the ice roads. The pale blotches over and around Sultana Island are clouds. I’m less sure of the pale patch south of Copper Island. I’m leaning towards cloud for that one.

At the bottom of the picture, the large island is Ferrier. The remaining patch of ice is within a triangle tipped by Robertson Island to the north west, Whiteout Island to the south west, and Craig Island to the east. This is the same patch of ice identified by Josh Broten a few days ago. At that time, he described it as being near Brittania Island, Cintiss Island and Gill Island, so it’s a lot smaller now.

Aside from the impracticality due to the size of the images this satellite produces, there’s another disadvantage: the Sentinel system doesn’t attempt to image Lake of the Woods very often. Subtract the cloudy days, and several weeks can go by without a picture. The timing on this one was great, but Sentinel images aren’t going to be a regular feature on Satellite Saturdays.

Hilary sent me a reduced image that shows the whole lake, but at a more manageable file size. It’s not as detailed as the section above, but you can see everything including Shoal Lake. Thanks, Hilary.

Lake of the Woods, May 7, 2020.

Speaking of Shoal Lake, the ice patch there is much larger than anything on Lake of the Woods, and will last a few days longer. This has happened every spring I can remember, except last year, when Shoal Lake cleared a few days before LotW.

On another topic, Peg from Texas wrote to ask how we’re making out with the pandemic, and what it’s like here. First off, the best place I’ve found to get updates is KenoraOnline’s COVID-19 Info page. It covers topics as local as what’s going on at the hospital (elective surgery might resume in a while), ranging up to announcements from Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford. Recently, he rejected requests that the province phase in re-opening on a region-by-region basis.

I’ll add some first-hand perspective that might be hard to pick out of the official news.

Restaurants and Bars: Unlike Manitoba, restaurants are not open, not even patios.  SOME restaurants are offering delivery or take-out, and of those, some are only doing it for limited hours, or a few days a week. Bars and lounges are closed. Non-essential businesses are closed.

Groceries: Keewatin Place was closed last time I checked. Correction: Keewatin Place is taking orders through their website and offering curbside pick-up. Safeway, No-Frills, the Wholesale Club, Wal-Mart, and the LCBO are still restricting the number of customers in the store: you have to line up outside to get in. You’re supposed to send one shopper for family, so there are very few children in the stores. One-way arrows assist physical distancing by limiting the number of people you meet coming the other way. Masks are fairly common, but I wouldn’t say they’re in the majority. The temporary arrows at Safeway and Wal-Mart have been replaced my more permanent ones, so I think they’re going to be staying. On the other hand, some of the barricades that turned the stores into a maze have been removed, allowing a little more freedom of movement.

Until now, hardware stores have not been open, but you could phone in an order, pay in advance and wait outside to pick it up. That may change soon. To quote from a news item about easing Ontario’s restrictions on KenoraOnline,  “Hardware stores and safety supply stores will be permitted to open for in-store payment and purchases as soon as Saturday, May 9. On Monday, May 11 retail stores with a street entrance can begin offering curbside pickup and delivery…”

Of course, it may take some time to get everything ready and up to the required standards.

Greenhouses can open, but Debbie’s Greenhouse is not open yet. According to their website, they’ll open when they’re ready to do it safely, and an announcement about the timing of that could come on Monday, May 11th.

I can’t make this a more comprehensive list, because I haven’t been out much. Hopefully, it will give an idea.

May 7, 2020: Bigstone Bay

I’m going to start with two pictures that are a couple of days old, and then show how things are changing. Bigstone Bay is one of the last places on Lake of the Woods to have ice. I’m not sure why, but this is true year after year. Perhaps there’s not much current.

You can click on the pictures to see them full-screen. That version can be zoomed.

Except the satellite image. Kenora’s Round Lake is about the smallest thing the MODIS cameras can show you, and trying to zoom in will just make it worse.

The first two pictures are from Al Smith, operator of Smith Camps on Thunder Bay.

Looking west from Heenan Point.  Sultana Island on the right, Scotty Island on left.

Still a good extent of ice in this picture from sunset on Tuesday evening.

Looking east from Smith Camps on Thunder Bay towards Eagle Pass.

Eagle pass is the water route around the east end of Hay Island. Al says it looks to be ice free from Route Bay through to Moore Bay.

Now some drone photographs from today, with thanks to Michael Tomashowski.

This picture facing West shows Bigstone Bay with Heenan Point poking out into the ice.

Looking north east at Longbow Lake.

The west end of Longbow looks open, but zoom in to get a better look at the ice in the more distant east half of the lake.

Michael has operated a DJI Mavic Pro since 2017. Thanks, Michael.

NASA’s Terra Satellite got a clear view of Lake of the Woods today. Here’s the false-colour image.

The ice on Shoal Lake is still visible from space.

The bright blue patch at the left is ice on Shoal Lake; it’s shrinking day by day. Less easy to spot is the ice on Bigstone. Near the north end of Lake of the Woods, look for a sizeable island shaped like a battered battle-axe, chopping downward: that’s Hay Island. Just north of it, a dim patch of blue is the thin ice remaining on Bigstone. Longbow Lake is just north of that, but the ice there is not visible to the satellite’s camera. Too thin and waterlogged, I expect. If there’s any ice remaining south of the Barrier Islands, I can’t see it.


Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol has seen a sharp reduction in web visitors this spring, to about half of recent years. Fair enough. Many visitors won’t be able to come in the early part of spring. Also, my being laid off from my flying job for three months (because of the pandemic) has meant that there have been far fewer aerial photographs this year, and that some areas have had much less coverage. Sorry about that.

But there have been pluses: I’ve had a lot more guest contributors this year. Many have taken the time to email me photographs to share with you. Some have made multiple flights in their small planes, and for the first time, I’ve been able to feature drone photography.

Despite the problems, it’s been gratifying to be able to do this blog while grounded. I never dreamed I’d get this much help. Thank you all.


May 4, 2020: What’s Left?

It’s no longer a question of what’s melting, it’s now about what’s still frozen.

The satellites were stymied by cloud today, and I wanted to know what’s going on at Bigstone Bay, so I texted a friend. John Sweeney sent me this pretty picture.

Before you jump to the conclusion that Bigstone is completely clear, you should click on the picture, and zoom in on the full-screen version. There’s a big pan of ice at the left. John was standing on the mainland, on the point between Route Bay and Storm Bay, and looking south across Bigstone Bay at Hay Island. 

If I understand John’s explanation, the ice is in or around Hay Island’s East Bay.

Here’s a second picture looking a little more to the left. I cropped it to make it easier to look at the ice. You’ll probably still want to zoom in.

You might be wondering what’s special about Bigstone Bay. I pay attention to it because it’s one of the areas on Lake of the Woods that thaws late. I expect there’s also ice south of the Barrier Islands, but I don’t know how much.

If it all melts in the next few days, this will be the quickest thaw* on our charts, even though it’s one of the later ones.

*using the specific definition that the thaw commences on the inflection date [the date when the mean daily temperature goes consistently above freezing] and ends the day the lake is 100% ice-free.

April 20, 2020: Bruce White

This picture is a couple of days old. Bruce White, from Air Canada, took it on the 18th. We had some trouble getting the picture to me yesterday, but we got it sorted out today. In any case, it’s barely been above freezing since it was taken, so the date doesn’t matter much.

You can click on this picture to see a full-screen version that can be zoomed to full resolution.

This image looks north from the south end of Lake of the Woods. Big Island is in the foreground, and the large landmass in the centre is the Alneau Peninsula. Big Narrows is behind the closer hinge fairing. (the tapered shape sticking out behind the wing) In the middle of the more northerly expanse of ice, you can see the Barrier Islands, and beyond that is Kenora and Upper and Lower Black Sturgeon Lakes.

Anyway, it’s almost all ice. On the bright side, the snow cover is mostly gone, so if we could just get some normal temperatures for a day or two…

Thanks, Bruce!


April 6, 2020: More from Matthew Belair

After the cold weather on Friday and Saturday, things have warmed up again. We staggered up to 6ºC Sunday, and Monday’s forecast high is 11ºC.

Matthew Belair caught a ride in a ski-plane yesterday.  The Cessna 180 belongs to Moncrief Construction Limited, and was flown by Rob Perchuck.

Matthews dad Kelly had this to say about the ice: It’s starting to go now, lots of points and narrows are opening up. There’s still about two feet where we were fishing yesterday, but the ice was starting to candle and not as solid. The auger rips through it fast.

These pictures were taken on Sunday, April 5th.  Some were taken using the camera on Matthew’s drone, and the uploaded versions are not very zoomable. Others were taken with an iPhone, and are much higher resolution.

Water flowing out of Devil’s Gap into Rat Portage Bay with Kenora in the distance. That’s Gun Club Island at the left edge of the frame.

A closer look at Devil’s Gap, with the iced-in Marina visible at the left. The swirling tracks in the foreground were apparently made by a wind-boat. (Air driven boats are known by several names: ice boat is common here, air boat in the Florida Everglades, and in northern Saskatchewan, they’re called rice boats because they’re used to harvest wild rice.)

This is the ice road through Holmstrom’s Marsh. Water closing in on both sides now.

Scotty Island, looking west down the Manitou towards Whiskey Island. Nothing but ice out here.

Looking north towards town from the same area. Copeland Island, home to Camp Stevens, is at the right. The two islands above and left of center are Anchor Island and Wildcat Island, and the ice looks rotten all the way to Billy Goat Island at the upper right hand corner.

Turning the camera to the east, Matthew took this shot down Bigstone Bay.xNanton’s Island is left of center, with Bell’s Island and Lunny’s Island beyond it. On the right, that’s Finches Point at the north end of Scotty Island, then Mazies Island and Heap’s Point at the northern the tip of Middle Island. Bigstone Bay is typically late to thaw.

Heartfelt thanks to Matthew, Rob and Kelly.



April 5, 2020: Matthew Belair

Here are some drone photos of The Elbow from yesterday, April 4, taken by Matthew Belair. Matthew used a DJI Spark to capture these images.

The Elbow is important because it’s one of the major water passages through the Barrier Islands. It thaws early, and the current flowing north from here influences the break-up in a large area.

I believe this shot looks north east, with Allie Island on the right and Mather Island at the left. I adjusted this photo to make it brighter, so the snow and ice can be seen more clearly.

These pictures are not very large, so although clicking on them will take you to a full-screen version, it won’t be high resolution.

The remaining pictures are not retouched. Here are two from above Queer Island.

This one looks south west towards The Elbow.

Looking west toward the sunset with green buoy E21 in a little open water. E21 is at the west end of Queer Island.

Lastly, my favourite, a close-up of the buoy.


I also like that you can see where recent cold calm conditions made some fresh ice.

Thanks Matthew!

April 4, 2020: Satellite Saturday

Kenora caught the tail end of Manitoba’s big storm. Before dawn on Friday, we had freezing rain, and then it turned to snow sometime around sunrise.

Friday stayed nasty all day, and when the skies cleared overnight the temperature dropped to -16ºC. There was no wind, so ice formed on quiet waters.

Here’s a picture taken from the highway between Keewatin and Norman.


See that shiny surface beyond the fresh layer of snow? That’s new ice. The open water is in the distance, where the ripples are. You can click on this picture to see it in high resolution.

For Satellite Saturday, since it’s too early to really see open water from space, I thought I’d put up photos from before and after the winter storm.

You cannot enlarge these pictures; they are at the maximum resolution available.

For a comparable satellite picture with some landmarks labelled, visit the FAQ page and scroll down.

This is the before pic, from March 31st. Notice that the forest is starting to look green.

Naturally, it was too cloudy to take pictures during the storm, but the skies cleared today.

Same camera, same satellite, April 4th. You can see that Shoal Lake, at the left, looks much whiter with its new layer of snow. The same is true of the Clearwater Bay and Ptarmigan Bay area east of Shoal, and also Buffalo Bay and Muskeg Bay, in the south west corner of the lake. The forested areas look less green, probably because of snow on the ground. A cloudy patch hid the Winnipeg River today.

I’ll finish with a couple of bonus pictures.

This is Piper checking out the geese and ducks last week on Tunnel Island.

And this is what our walk looked like this morning.

Stay well. Don’t forget to wipe down your smart phone.

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 30, 2020: Warm week

Just a quick update without pictures. Cam tells me the ice was still nearly three feet thick yesterday. He was near Crescent Island. He describes the ice as strong and solid, and the snow cover as several inches of clean crystalline snow.

This week is warm, with daytime highs of about 9ºC. Overnight lows have been just a few degrees below freezing. Does this mean we’re above freezing on average, and have therefore passed the Inflection Date? Maybe not. The weather forecast says that although the next few days will be mild, temperatures will sink again after that. Thursday looks set to be cool and rainy, and Friday is expected to be snowy and stay below 0ºC, and then it looks like a few days will hover around freezing. We’ll have to wait and see how it really averages out. Rain at this time of year is very helpful because it washes off the snow cover. Fresh snow is just the opposite, of course.

If you have photos from out on the lake, I’d like them, but keep in mind that the comment box can only handle text. Take a look on the ABOUT tab to see how to email them to me. I would need the photographer’s name, and info on when and where the pictures were taken. Please don’t send more than one or two, it’s easy to clog my mailbox. Remember: you only have the right to submit your own photographs (because of copyright) and you should give permission to post them on the site.

Oh, I almost forgot: the gulls are back! A small flock is hanging out on the Norman Dam, pestering the ravens. The hiking trails on Tunnel Island are still very icy. There are a few dry spots, but also many places where the ice softened to slush and refroze. On the north side of the island, there are some extensive sheets of sloping ice. You need cleats to do any serious hiking.

March 7, 2020: Bulletins

First, this notice from the City of Kenora, issued March 4th:

On Monday, March 9th the winter road access on Coney Island will be closed for the season.
Residents with vehicles on the island should consider moving [them] before the chain across the road is locked preventing vehicles from returning to mainland.
Thank you for your cooperation.

This marks the beginning of the end for the ice roads. If this seems early, don’t be too surprised: the Lake of the Woods Control Board has been warning of thin and unreliable ice on the Winnipeg River all winter. That’s because high flow through the Norman Dam has meant strong currents on the river, and poor ice formation.

Likewise, those parts of Lake of the Woods that have significant water flow are also likely to have weak ice. That includes Safety Bay, one of the first areas to open up because of the water flowing out of the lake and into the river.

My ice-fishing friends report that ice is generally thinner than usual, and very thin in some places. It’s common in March for the ice to be about a meter thick, so that three-foot augers sometimes cannot penetrate without an extension. This year, I hear that the ice is somewhere between two and three feet thick, except where it isn’t. One friend was drilling a handful of holes and was shocked to find that in one spot, the drill popped through ice that was only a few inches thick. Probably there had been a little patch of open water there that had only frozen over during the most recent cold snap. Then fresh snow made it look just like the solid ice all around.

Other pilots and I are observing large areas of slushy ice, and snowmobilers have confirmed this.

Sean Cockrem is working on his graphs, so we’ll soon be able to visually compare this winter to other recent ones. We expect this will confirm our feeling that this winter was pretty mild.

Regular reports on Ice Patrol will commence soon, as we are probably approaching this year’s Inflection Date, the day when temperatures start to average above freezing. More precisely, the date when the Mean Daily Temperatures begin to consistently exceed 0°C. That’s when the thaw starts in earnest.

Lastly, if you’d like to meet me in person, I’ll be talking at this year’s Common Ground, where storytellers share their special stories about their connection to Lake of the Woods.

This year there are eight featured speakers. The event is on Saturday, April 4th, from 9 am to 2:30 pm, at the Seven Generations Conference Centre, 240 Veterans Drive.

I believe tickets are $30 in advance or $35 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Kenora Public Libraries and the Lake of the Woods Museum. There’s a morning break and a lunch break.

I’ll be speaking just after 9:00, right after the opening remarks. I’ll be showing pictures and talking about how Ice Patrol began and evolved, and what I’ve learned from all those years observing the ice-out. There will be a few minutes for questions.