May 13, 2022: Forecast Friday

Soon, the ice-out date will be history, and not a matter for forecasts.

But while we still have a little ice left, here’s Sean’s last take on it for this year.

Remember, you can click on this graph to see it large and sharp.

Lake of the Woods Thaw Forecast.

This year’s temperature profile (the blue line) runs parallel to the best case example from 2007 (the red line). Since last week, Sean has updated the path of the blue line to replace forecast temperatures with actual ones up to the present.

His conclusion? Based on temperatures, the lake should be entirely ice-free in the evening of May 17th.

Temperatures are not the only factor in play, though, so there’s still some wiggle room for wind and high humidity to get rid of the ice even faster. Certainly it is very windy today. I think it’s possible that the ice might be gone a day or so earlier than the temperatures suggest.

In the meantime, although there is still ice present, many people will be able to reach their cottages by boat already. For those who cannot, yet, it is only a matter of days.

Satellite imagery is a bit of a tease lately, because of cloud. Yesterday, Terra satellite was able to see only the south west corner of the lake. Today, Aqua got a look at only the east side. In both cases, there was no significant ice visible, but we’re reaching the stage where it would be hard to spot from space.

Lake levels continue to rise. Water is flowing into Lake of the Woods faster than it can be let out. Sean calculates that the surplus amounts to an olympic-sized swimming pool’s worth of water every second and a half. That would raise the lake by an inch and a quarter every day. If that continued for a week, it would come to another fifteen inches, but nobody knows exactly how long the inflow will remain so high.

As mentioned on Ice Patrol yesterday, the water level of the Winnipeg River is so high that it’s raising the water level in and around the Black Sturgeon Lakes. That’s washed out a number of roads, and resulted in an evacuation order for a lot of people that live north of the Kenora Bypass. The evacuees will have a narrow window to get out. The City of Kenora Works Department is attempting to re-open one route with heavy equipment, and they think they can keep that road passable for four hours this afternoon. After that, the floodwaters will close off all the ways out.

You can read more–and see a map of the affected area–at Kenora Online.

 

 

 

May 12, 2022: It’s All Going

I wasn’t expecting pictures today because of the heavy rainfall warning. But the weather has been better than expected so far, and I received three great sets.

Before we start with the pictures, the comments form is overflowing with people reporting that various places are open, or opening fast.

Let’s back those assertions up with some evidence. First up, aerial photos from James Hendy at River Air. He’s another of my former colleagues from decades ago.

You can click on these pictures to see larger versions that reveal more detail.

James started at Poplar Bay.

Poplar Bay.

It’s partly open, but there’s ice at the south end. Let’s take a closer look.

Poplar Bay, Welcome Channel, Wolf Island, Hare Island.

Next, James cruised out to the Manitou. The first view looks roughly south.

 

The Manitou. Whisky Island at the right, Barrier Islands in the distance.

Still ice here, and the ice roads haven’t broken apart yet. The Manitou is one of the last places to let go, but once things reach this stage of soft ice, it’s very vulnerable to wind.

Looking more to the south west shows the western stretch of the Manitou.

West Manitou. Crow Rock Island at the upper centre.

Then back towards Kenora. The ability to reach Scotty Island is a key milestone in boat access.

 

Scotty Island in the distance.

I’ve heard from BB Camps that Town Island is accessible, and it looks like you can make it to Scotty Island now. More about the beach there, later.

Thanks, James!

Our second set of photos come from contributor Scott Benson.

Over Sugar Bay looking east down Clearwater Bay. It’s open water west of here. Frozen east and south.

Scotty’s beach in foreground looking east over Bigstone Bay.

That beach is looking pretty waterlogged. I like the little cluster of ice-road fragments, though.

Looking north over Shammis Island where the main ice road crosses. This area of the lake is 90+% ice at this point.

I’ve said it before, but the ice roads are the last things to let go. This broken one shows how close we are to total ice-out.

Over Ash Bay looking east at the grouping of islands including S Island and north up Corkscrew Channel. Open around S island and frozen to the east towards Whiskey island.

There’s still quite a lot of ice out there, but it’s almost all candled. Basically it’s just fancy ice cubes (well, hexagons, actually) floating around and keeping each other company.

Just west of Victoria Island looking north at Mud Portage, and Woodchuck/Deception bays in the distance. Woodchuck and Deception are ice free.

Over the entrance to Echo bay looking east down Ptarmigan Bay, Zig Zag island in the center. Ice free north of Zig Zag island.

Looking south east at Echo Bay. About 1/2 open water.

West Hawk Lake. This ice has been pushed around by the wind for the past 3 days and won’t last long.

I have had at least one report that West Hawk Lake is wide open. Consider that if an observer was standing on the far shore, they would not be able to see this ice remnant on the west side.

Looking south over Shoal Lake. Some areas open (maybe 5-10%) ice in the middle looks white, the strongest ice I spotted today.

Oh, good. I just had someone asking about Shoal Lake. Typically, Shoal Lake’s ice lasts a few days longer than it does on Lake of the Woods. There’s a pretty big pan there, but I don’t think it will last through the weekend.

Scott was kind enough to write captions for his pictures, saving me a lot of work. Thanks, Scott!

But wait, there’s more.

Here’s a picture  of the ice at Clearwater Bay from Brendon Thiessen that came in while I was writing this post.

This was taken at 2pm today (12/05/2022). Looking Northwest from Big Duck Island toward Sugar Bay.

Brendon was using a drone to check on his docks, (they’re fine) and sent me this to show the ice. Thanks, Brendon!

I’ll finish with a set of aerial photos from MAG Canada’s Justin Martin.

We’ll start with Northern Harbour, because I’ve been curious about it for a  couple of days.

Pine Portage Bay, Sultana Island and Bald Indian Bay.

There’s water around the docks now, but before you phone Northern Harbour, take note that there’s not actually a clear route out of Pine Portage Bay yet.

From Bare Point, Looking west towards Treaty Island.

It looks as if you could take a boat out through Devil’s Gap now. There’s still a lot of pan ice, though, so you’d want to be careful not to get trapped.

Middle Island and Scotty Island.

The same applies if you try to go beyond Scotty Island. Large pans of ice, moving around because of wind and current. South of the Barrier Islands, those sheets are massive. We’ll take a closer look in a minute.

But first, Corkscrew Island, Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater Bay.

 

Corkscrew Island, looking west towards Zigzag Island.

Now the Barrier Islands, and the huge ice sheet south of them.

East Allie Island and Allie Island, looking over those Barrier Islands at the ice to the south.

Most years, that ice covered area is the last to go. Small pans of this may survive for several more days.

Thanks for these, Justin!

This last shot from Justin is a little different.

Judging by the Kenora Airport in the background, this is the Essex Road. As you can see, a lengthy stretch of it is underwater.

This is not the only road in the region to be flooded or washed out. The problem in this location is that the Winnipeg River is now higher than the Black Sturgeon Lakes, causing their water levels to rise.

It’s raining as I write this, and we have another heavy rainfall warning, so water levels in the whole drainage basin of Lake of the Woods are sure to continue rising.

As far as the ice is concerned, it’s melting everywhere, and it’s melting fast. It won’t be long now.

 

 

May 8, 2022: Satellite Sunday?

Not really. These pictures are from Saturday the 7th, but they missed the deadline for getting posted yesterday.

The good news is, we got a solid pass from Sentinel 2 yesterday. This ESA satellite has a narrow field of view, so it doesn’t often image all of Lake of the Woods*. But when it does, the resolution is a dream.

*For broad coverage, the MODIS cameras on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites are better, and they pass overhead every day. But their images of Lake of the Woods are small, and cannot be enlarged.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 7, 2022, in false colour.

This is a MODIS image from yesterday. The cloud cover is different from the pictures below because Terra and Sentinel 2 made their passes some hours apart.

 

Let’s start with Sentinel 2‘s view of the whole lake, in Short-wave Infrared. You can enlarge this image by clicking on it to see it full screen.

Sentinel 2 image of Lake of the Woods in Short-wave Infrared, May 7, 2022.

I don’t know if the SWIR version of a Sentinel 2 image is directly comparable to a MODIS false-colour image, but it’s very similar.

It’s very clear that ice quality is now deteriorating fast all over Lake of the Woods.

There was cloud in the northern parts of the lake yesterday, spoiling Sentinel 2’s view, so let’s take the opportunity to take a closer look at the south half of the lake, which I seldom get good images of. [It’s too much of a detour for a Kenora-based flight.] Shots of Morson and Sabaskong Bay are regrettably rare.

You can click on the following images to see them full-screen and zoomable.

Southern portion of Lake of the Woods, at higher magnification.

This is from the same image, but zoomed in even more. Click on it and enlarge it all the way to see a lot of detail. I had to cut it off just north of Big Narrows to keep the file size below the 3GB limit set by WordPress. Even then, it took me two tries to upload it to their server.

As I was preparing this post, Terry and Mary James used the comment box to ask about whether their interpretation of what the MODIS images showed at Roughrock Lake was correct.

So l’m going to show them (and you) what Sentinel 2 can really do! Note the scale at the bottom right corner. 1km is about as tight as it will go. You can try to enlarge it further, but the image gets fuzzier.

Roughrock Lake, Big Sand Lake, Little Sand Lake.

Also, this timely comment from Bargeman, via email:

I live in Minaki and have had a boat in for the last week. My wife and I broke up the last bit of ice in the middle of Little Sand Lake to Rough Rock Narrows on Thursday. So the river is open from dam to dam. This has been the quickest opening (from looking very dubious about ice being gone by May long) I can remember. The water rising creating cracks everywhere around the shorelines combined with the strong current has increased open water way quicker….thank goodness. We have Sand Lake Outpost on Big Sand Lake at it is looking like our long weekend guests will be able to stay at our place on Deadman’s Island, just north of Harbour Island.

Hope this answers your question, Terry!

So while I’m at it, let’s see if I can find something for Pete Giroux. He has a place on the Manitou Stretch, east of Lake of the Woods.

East of Sioux Narrows and Highway 71.

I think you’re in luck, Pete: this is right at the eastern edge of Sentinel 2’s latest swath.

I was also curious to see how things were looking further north, up by Red Lake and Trout Lake, but that area was covered with cloud.

Recent warm–and now moist–weather are moving things along very quickly. I tried take a look back at 2014, which was the last time we had such a late thaw. MODIS images are not available for May 6 through 9 because of cloud. The May 5 image shows only a little of the lake, and the May 10 image is blurry, but I think I can say we’re pulling ahead of spring 2014.

Aerial photos I took at around these dates in 2014 were shot in rainy weather, and are hard to make out, but I think they also show we’re doing better.

That would be good, because the lake wasn’t entirely clear until May 21 that year.

I’m confident we’re on track to keep up with Sean’s recent prediction of May 18, and since the weather has been warmer than the forecast he was working with, he may be able revise his graphs again next week.

Keep in mind that when we talk about ice-out on Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol, we mean the whole lake, entirely free of ice. Significant areas are opening to boat traffic every day, and things will be improving daily. One of the bottlenecks we face right now is a lack of  Marina access. Northern Harbour is situated on deep water, and is still iced in. Two Bears Marina, in Keewatin, has soft ice all around their docks and were not operating yet when I stopped by yesterday. Devil’s Gap Marina might have enough water to launch boats, but their open water doesn’t reach very far yet.

I haven’t surveyed a full list of marinas, but if you’re a marina operator, and you have news, feel free to use the comments form on the ABOUT page to let us know how things are shaping up for you. Are you launching yet, or opening soon?

Do you have friends who would want to follow Ice Patrol? I often get emails from people asking to get on the list. THERE IS NO LIST! To follow Ice Patrol and get the emails, visit the Ice Patrol home page and look for the FOLLOW button at the right side. Click it, and you’ll get an email every time I post a new article. If you change your mind, visit again and simply UNFOLLOW.

However, those emails do not tell the whole story. For one thing, if I update a post, a new email does not go out. If you want more, including updates, comments, links, access to archives and satellite images, and an FAQ page that is helpful to new users, visit the actual website.

To ensure that you see updates, use the refresh button on your browser to reload the page.

The emails are timely and keep you updated, but the website is the real thing.

 

May 7, 2022: Satellite Saturday

We’ve had almost a whole week of sunny weather, so at least one of the NASA satellites got a picture for five days running.

I was hoping to put them together as an animated gif or a slide show, but it didn’t work well.

I’ll just show them in reverse order so you can compare.

If you need help getting oriented, go to the last one, May 3, and click on it. You’ll see a version with some landmarks labelled.

May 7.

May 6.

May 5.

May 4.

May 3.

The amount of progress in five days is impressive. The amount of open water is very different in the first and last pictures. But it’s the steady change in the colour (and strength) of the ice that is most important.

While we’re looking at things from overhead, Tom Lindstrom went cruising by in an airliner today and took a series of pictures from the cockpit. Many of them turned out kind of dark; I think his camera was dazzled by the brightness of the ice. I’ve enhanced the contrast on these two to improve the difference between islands and water, so they look a little odd, and the ice colour is not correct.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version. Then zoom in, because these pictures are big

Kenora waters.

This picture covers everything from Kenora a the top left, to Second Channel at the bottom right. Zoom in and you can see the last patch of candled ice in Kenora Bay.

From Safety Bay to Bigstone Bay.

This second shot includes a wider area. Bigstone Bay is at the top right, Middle Island and Scotty Island are near the corner, Welcome Channel and Poplar Bay are halfway down the right side, and White Partridge is at the bottom.

The weather:

We hit at least 20°C yesterday, and it’s 22°C as I write this, exceeding both the forecast highs and seasonal averages. But just so you know, the record high for this date is 31.7°, set in 1953!

Now we’re supposed to get a couple of days of rain. Because weekend. But wet weather is not entirely bad. High humidity can have a powerful melting effect on ice. This is due to the energy released when water vapour condenses onto ice or snow. The humidity actually does more damage than the rain.

However, the rainy weather means we won’t get any satellite coverage until Tuesday, and it may not be good enough for my pilot friends to take pictures, either. So we’ll have a bit of an information blackout for a few days. If you go boating, you could use the comments form on the ABOUT page to let us know how you made out, and how far you got.

Signs of Spring:

I finally found time to put my summer tires on today.

Flies are out. Midges will be next, I think, and a friend mentioned that with all this standing water, the mosquitoes may get off to a roaring start this year.

I can’t find a bulletin on a planned date for the removal of the Coney Island pedestrian bridge yet. It gets scheduled for removal when the ice clears out between Kenora and Devil’s Gap, leaving the bridge as the only obstacle to boat traffic. That hasn’t happened yet.

 

May 5, 2022: Overview

So far this week, we’ve been looking at the lake one patch at a time. This morning, Jonathan O’Connor was aboard Air Canada’s flight AC259 from Toronto to Winnipeg. He sent in some photos.

Yes, you can click on these to see a larger version that you can zoom in on.

We’ll go from east to west, like Jonathan’s flight.

Whitefish Bay and Long Bay.

This is Whitefish Bay, and at the right of the photo is Highway 71. Don’t be fooled by the powerline, which is straighter and more obvious. The road is closer to the right edge, and much wigglier. Zoom in and you can see the open water at the  Sioux Narrows bridge. Because the camera is pointed down for this shot, it provides a good look at the condition of the ice, which looks soft.

Here’s his view of the northern part of Lake of the Woods.

North of the Alneau Peninsula.

In the foreground is the Alneau Peninsula. The Barrier Islands stretch across the middle of the frame, and if you look closely, you can see the big patch of open water at the Elbow. Above the middle to the right are Hay Island, Bigstone Bay and Longbow Lake. Towards the upper left, the water in Keewatin Channel is hard to distinguish from the land unless you zoom in. From high altitudes, the haze tends to make trees and water look a similar shade of blue, especially in the distance.

Big Narrows.

As the plane travelled west, Jonathan captured this view of Big Narrows that also shows Ptarmigan in the distance.

Thanks, Jonathan!

The continuing clear weather means there are new satellite images every day. I’ll put together a look at the whole week on Satellite Saturday, but in the meantime, here’s today’s shot from Terra.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 5, 2022, in false colour.

We also have a new drone Panorama from Paul Leischow.

As usual, clicking on the still image below will take you to a panorama that you can watch, or use your mouse to interact with.

Drone view of Keewatin Channel.

It’s worth mentioning that at this time of year, this whole area would usually be all open water, with lots of boat traffic.

Thanks, Paul!

Two things are happening on Friday: Sean will reveal how the actual weather and the changes to the weather forecast affect his graphs predicting the likely timing of ice-out.

I’ll be live on Q-104 with Ken O’Neil at 7:50am to talk about that, and how the sudden arrival of spring weather is changing things.

May 4, 2022: Startling Change

I had a chance to go flying today. Quinn Wilson, one of my former colleagues, was able to take me for a flight in one of MAG Canada’s Rockwell Aero Commander 500s.

We went for a tour of the northern half of the lake. I took quite a lot of pictures, and here’s a selection of the most informative.

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

Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay.

The usual shot taken shortly after take-off. At the left edge, Rat Portage Bay is showing an increased amount of open water; it approaches Gun Club Island now.

We flew west to check out Clearwater Bay.

Clearwater Bay and Deception Bay.

Most of Clearwater and Ptarmigan are still frozen over.

Deception Bay.

But there is some open water around the marina in Deception Bay.

Ash Rapids.

I wanted a closer look at Ash Rapids to see if there was more open water than yesterday. I think yes, a little.

Southwest end of Big Narrows.

Big Narrows is practically wide open now. Of course, the routes to it are still frozen.

Wiley Point.

From Big Narrows, the open water has spread as far as Wiley Point.

From there, we cruised over to look at the Barrier Islands.

Crow Rock Pass.

Spotted some open water at Crow Rock Pass, and there’s a tiny bit near Twelve Mile Portage, too.

The Elbow.

Developments around the Elbow look more dramatic. I’m sure there’s more open water here than in Justin’s pictures from just thirty hours earlier.

Queer Island and French Narrows.

And where we saw weakening ice yesterday, there are growing patches of open water around Queer Island.

Next, over to Bigstone Bay.

Eagle Pass.

There’s still just a very small patch of water at Eagle Pass.

Scotty Island, Nanton Island, Town Island.

I’m keeping a close eye on the waters approaching Scotty Island, as this is an area of dynamic change. I think there’s a visible difference since yesterday.

Lastly, a look at Devil’s gap from the Rogers Island side.

Rogers Island and Devil’s Gap.

Ice in this area always holds out longer than you’d expect. In fact, this very spot was the reason Ice Patrol started in the first place,  But there is noticeable change here, too, as the water opens up towards Galt Island.

I hope to go flying with Quinn again in a few days. Thanks, Quinn!

In summary, there was a surprising amount of change in one day. Patches of rotten ice opened up dramatically, and most areas with open water saw at least a little expansion.

The latest MODIS image bears that out.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, May 4, 2022, in false colour.

Here’s the matching shot from yesterday.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 3, 2022, in false colour.

Black patches of open water seem larger in today’s image. Although the lake is still about 95% ice-covered, whole swaths of that ice have turned darker, indicating that it is thinning or weakening.

The weather: tomorrow we might see above normal temperatures for the first time in weeks. The Weather Network says a high of 16°C, slightly above seasonal norms of around 15. Environment Canada thinks we might make it to 18°C. Friday’s supposed to be similar, but the weather will be a few degrees cooler on the weekend, and rain is expected to start on Saturday night and last a few days. I was recently reminded by retired meteorologist Louis Legal, that it’s not the actual rain that destroys ice. It’s the high humidity that comes with the rain, and the energy transferred when water vapour condenses onto snow or ice. So I expect rapid change for the next few days. We could be approaching a turning point.

The Lake of the Woods Control Board has announced that the Norman Dam will soon be going wide open. You can read the full announcement at the preceding link, but the gist of it is that there was record precipitation in April, so the lake has been rising fast and will continue to do so. The lake is already at 95th percentile levels, and it is predicted to reach the highest allowable levels by mid-May. Even at maximum flow, the dam cannot drain the lake as fast as it is filling up, so the dam will be opening all the way on May 7, in an attempt to get a head start.

Signs of spring: Loons are back. I thought I spotted some yesterday, but today I was able to confirm it with Derek, an experienced birder who has seen and heard them clearly. Oh, I guess that’s another sign of spring: the birders must be getting more active, because I met two today. On a more urban level, the street-sweepers are out. This also sparks joy, but in a less poetic way.

May 3, 2022: Signs of Progress

Well okay. The thaw has finally started.

Thanks to the wet weather, the snow in town is mostly gone. Some of the larger snowbanks persist, but streets and sidewalks are basically dry.

So what about the lake? Justin Martin was out flying at around midday today, and sent me some pictures.

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

We’ll start the tour at Northern Harbour on Pine Portage Bay.

Pine Portage Bay, looking west over Bald Indian Bay.

The docks at Northern Harbour are at the lower right corner of the picture, and they’re completely ice-locked.

The next picture moves forwards and swings a little to the left to show Scotty Island and Middle Island.

In an Ice Patrol post almost a week ago, there were signs of weak ice to the south of Keewatin Channel. Wet weather since then should have made a difference. And it has.

Needle Point, the northern tip of Hay Island, is in the foreground. Behind it are Middle Island and Scotty Island. To the right are Nanton’s Island and Lunny’s Island, and Town Island is at the right edge.

Now we can see open water extending past Town Island, and reaching as close to Scotty Island as Anchor Island.

Time to check on the Barrier Islands.

Looking west over Square Island at the Barrier Islands.

The most notable thing in this view is the large patch of open water at The Elbow.  There’s more water at Queer Island, and I think that’s a new development. At the left of the picture, French Narrows isn’t showing much change yet, but all the ice in the foreground looks soft.

There’s progress down at Big Narrows, too.

Tranquil Channel and Big Narrows.

Lots of water here. Donald Duck Island is at the lower right, and this view makes it obvious how it got its name. The ice in this area looks fairly sound.

Next up, Ptarmigan Bay.

Ptarmigan Bay, with Clearwater and Deception in the distance.

The photo above shows most of Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater Bay. By and large, it’s all frozen.

There’s one exception.

Open water at Ash Rapids.

That’s our round-up for today. Thanks, Justin!

Generally speaking, the ice is softening in areas with current, and areas of open water are expanding slowly.

Warmer weather is on the way, so we can hope for more progress in the days to come.

Today’s clear skies meant that Terra got a good look at us.

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

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 3, 2022, in false colour.

There are more patches of black, representing open water, and the land seems to have a lot less snow.

Here’s how it looked one week ago, if you want to see the change.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, April 26, 2022, in false colour.

Seeing the images together also reveals how the quality of the ice has changed in a week. Notice how much darker the ice looks in the upper image. That indicates that it has grown weaker.

It’s not very helpful to look back on May 3rd of previous years. Often the lake was open by now, or nearly so. The one year that would be worth a look was 2014, another notoriously late year. I checked the archives at the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s website, and the pictures from early May of 2014 are mostly cloudy. From what I can see, the lake looked about the same. That year, Lake of the Woods wasn’t ice-free until May 21.

Signs of spring: the pelicans are back.

I think it’s time to mount my summer tires. We might actually see temperatures as high as 16°C this week. That’s a whole degree above average.

April 30, 2022: Satellite Saturday

Well, it’s raining again. We’re setting records for April precipitation as I write this.

That means the last couple of days haven’t been good for satellite photos, but we got an exceptionally good look at the lake on Wednesday. Sentinel 2 is a European Space Agency satellite that takes high resolution pictures. It doesn’t come our way every day, and when it does, it often images only part of the lake because of it’s narrow field of view.

But on Wednesday, everything aligned.

You can click on these pictures to see them at higher resolution!

Sentinel 2 image of Lake of the Woods, in true colour.

Yes, that’s a colour photo. There’s just not a lot of green in our landscape yet.

But if you’d like something a bit more vibrant, Sentinel 2 also offers a short-wave infrared option.

Sentinel 2 image of Lake of the Woods, in short-wave infrared.

Note the scale (5km) in the bottom right corner. But wait, there’s more good news. This satellite can show more detail than this. I can’t upload a picture of the whole lake at the highest resolution; the file is too big. But I can zoom in for a better look at the north part of the lake, and upload that.

Don’t forget to click on these images to see the full-screen version. Click on that to see the picture’s full resolution.

Sentinel 2 image of the northern part of Lake of the Woods in short-wave infrared.

So on this image, I thought I noticed something. In a recent aerial photo from Tom Hutton, taken the same day, you could see rotten ice south of the Keewatin Channel, extending past Town Island towards Scotty.

Let’s zoom in even tighter on that area, to a 1km scale.

Sentinel 2 image of the Wendigo and Bigstone Bay in short-wave infrared.

Now we can clearly see the dark blotches of softening ice, extending from the open water in Keewatin Channel and Second Channel at the upper left, towards Scotty Island near the middle of the frame.

This is the ice that I expect to yield next.

It’s also worth noting that there are multiple tiny patches of water visible in the vicinity of Middle Island, at Eagle Pass at the east end of Hay Island, and near Railroad Island, south of Hay.

Rapidly rising lake levels, and more importantly, the increasing outflows through the Norman Dam* that the rising water necessitates, should help to erode more ice, starting in these areas with significant currents.

*The Lake of the Woods Control Board strives to keep the lake levels within specified limits. A month ago, the lake was pretty low. Multiple Colorado lows have dumped a lot of first snow, and then rain in the lake’s drainage basin. The board reports that the average lake level has been rising by over an inch a day, (25cm in a week) and will continue at close to that rate for several more days. In the meantime, outflow through the dam has gone from 450 cubic metres per second three weeks ago to more than double that, at 925. Fun fact: a cubic metre of fresh water masses one tonne.

So enjoy the rain!

April 17, 2022: Aqua’s Back

After being offline for over two weeks, I’m delighted to see that NASA’s Aqua satellite is back on the job.

So we’ll have Satellite Saturday a few hours late.

If you click on these images, they won’t enlarge, but for the first few, you’ll see a version with some place labels added.

April 16, 2022 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite.

This is how the lake looks after that fresh snowfall. The picture’s a little blurry, but I don’t think that’s a problem with Aqua‘s MODIS camera. It might be due to a thin veil of cloud.

We’ve had several days of cloud and snow, so to see what the lake looked like before the snowstorm, we have to go back all the way to April 8.

That’s during the period when Aqua was not transmitting, so here’s the image from Terra‘s matching MODIS camera.

April 8, 2022 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite.

Last week, there was no open water at the mouth of the Rainy River at the south end of the lake. That’s a positive development, but it seems to be the only significant change.

Now let’s take a look at some previous years, at around today’s date, starting with last year.

April 15, 2021 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite.

Last year the lake was ice free by April 24th, so it’s no surprise that it looked very different.

2020 is worth a look because the thaw got off to a late start that year, with an Inflection Date of April 22.

April 17, 2020 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite.

2020 was a weird year. Warm temperatures in March gave way to miserable cold in early April, and we had to reconsider the inflection date, changing it from an optimistic March 26 to April 22. Even so, the ice was a lot weaker by this point.

I’ll cut to the chase and show you what the lake looked like in mid-April of 2014, the worst spring since I started keeping track. I wasn’t using satellite images back then, so this shot has never appeared on Ice Patrol before, but the University of Wisconsin keeps their entire archive online.

April 16, 2014 false colour image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite.

This shot shows an ice-covered lake, but large areas of that ice look bare, and perhaps thin. Overall, it looked better then than now, but if there’s a ray of hope, it’s that the Rainy River hadn’t started the ice away from the south shore yet. In 2014, the ice wasn’t gone until May 21.

The weather does not look promising in the short term. As I write this (in the middle of the night), we’re expecting overnight temperatures to sink to -10°C, and for today’s high to be just around zero. That won’t melt much snow, and in fact they’re predicting flurries today, with an accumulation of perhaps another 5cm.

Back in March, I thought we were heading for a latish thaw, with the lake ice-free by somewhere in the May 11-15 range. That no longer seems very likely.  To thaw the lake in four weeks, we’d need some warmer weather. Historically, temperatures at this time of year run to daytime highs of about 10°C, and overnight lows of right around freezing.  But the fourteen day outlook is for things to stay cooler than that, with more cloudy days than sunny ones. I now think it’s more likely that some ice will persist to around May 16-22. There’s a chance that this could be the latest thaw in decades.

Keep in mind that that’s for the lake to be entirely clear of ice. There should large areas of the lake open for cautious boating before then. Water-skiing, not so much.

Signs of spring: I saw a bald eagle over Cameron Bay yesterday.

April 15, 2022: Wintry Weather

“Smile,” they said, “it could be worse.”

So I did. And it is.

The forecast snowstorm came, as shown in the Wednesday and Thursday pictures above, and it looks like Kenora got in the lower range of the predicted amounts of snow. It’s shin-deep, perhaps something like 20-25cm, compared to a forecast of 20-45cm. Parts of Manitoba got far more than we did, and while there were power outages reported in Thunder Bay and Fort Frances, I’m not aware of any here.

MINOR UPDATE:

Our official snowfall for the the storm was 24cm.

There were power outages in Laclu and Clearwater.

So yes, it could have been worse. But now we have some really cold weather. This morning, we dipped to -11°C, and the wind chill made that feel like -19.

Low temperatures are going to persist for a few days, so it looks like the earliest we might see our Mean Daily Temperature crawl back up above freezing is going to be around the 19th or 20th of April.

An Inflection Date that late is not unprecedented.

Lets look at some basic stats on years with similar lasting cold.

2014: Inflection on April 19; ice completely gone by May 21.

2020: Inflection on April 22; ice completely gone by May 9.

2013: Inflection on April 26; ice completely gone by May 15.

Three years is not a lot of data to draw  conclusions from. These late thaws took from three to five weeks. That’s a pretty wide range, so I went looking for photos from around this time for each of those years.

You can click on these archive photos to see them full-screen.

Keewatin Channel as it appeared on April 16 of 2014. Safety Bay is in the distance.

The fresh snow makes me think 2014 is a good match.

Gun Club Island as seen on April 17 of 2013. Keewatin in the background.

The two pictures above show that broadly speaking, the situation was comparable to this year.

I don’t have any pictures within a week of today’s date from 2020, because the pandemic grounded me in mid-March. That was a very rapid thaw, though, and I don’t think we should put too many eggs in that basket.

The weather has not been good enough to take aerial photographs, and that goes double for satellite pictures. In today’s Terra image, Lake of the Woods is barely discernable through a thin layer of cloud. We might be able to take stock in a day or two, but Sean and I won’t really get a handle on revising our predictions until we confirm the Inflection Date.

By the way, the videos of the Common Ground storytelling event are up. If you weren’t around, or couldn’t get a ticket because of the restrictions on capacity, you can see and hear them here: Link to videos. There are some fascinating and entertaining talks there, and you can use my chat about Ice Patrol as a kind of tutorial because in addition to telling how Ice Patrol came about, I also explain some of the graphs.