May 11, 2018: Remnants Persist

Yesterday I said the weak ice between Scotty Island and Whiskey Island would be gone overnight. Wrong! Garry Hawryluk passed overhead on a WestJet flight at 6:00 this morning, and managed a few pictures at dawn. The light was poor, so I’ve enhanced the contrast on this one to make the ice more visible.

What I like about this photo is it shows the full span of that ice sheet south of the Barrier Islands. But if you look just above the big expanse of ice, you can see that the small patch in the Manitou survived the night. It did dip below freezing last night, but I think a bigger factor was that the wind died out: without wave action, the candled ice did not break up or blow away.

My own nefarious plan was to hold off on taking pictures until this afternoon, so I could say, “it was gone when I looked.” Unfortunately, it was still hanging on at 3:00pm.

This picture is centered on Town Island. Click on it to see a larger image, and click on that to zoom in, and you can see that small pans of ice still persist on the Manitou.

At full magnification, you can also see a boat passing by Lunny’s Island. The water is so smooth you can trace the wake all the way back to the Hades!

This picture shifts over to the left to show more of Bigstone Bay and Hay Island. Zoom in on this one and you can see a tiny forlorn patch of ice clinging to Needle Point, just left of the center of the picture. But the real reason I took this photo is I wanted to show the larger sheet of ice in the distance. The top right corner of the picture shows the area south of East Allie Island, and that big expanse of ice there is still, well, big. It looks set to hold on a bit longer.

Now that the thaw is almost complete, Sean and I are looking forward to finishing up our graphs for 2018.

Here’s Sean’s latest version of the prediction graph.

We reached a Thaw Index of 200 today, which Sean guessed (several weeks ago!) would be enough accumulated heat to melt all our ice. It turned out to be a very good guess, especially for a first attempt. Sean used temperature data from past years to work out a relationship between how cold a winter was and how much warmth it takes to melt the ice. That didn’t give him a magic number, it gave him a range. He still had to choose whether this year’s thaw would be rapid or sluggish. He went with a swiftish prediction, and chose a thaw index of 200 as his best guess. (A thaw index of 200 means that starting on the day the temperature averages above freezing, we add each day’s mean temperature to a total. When it adds up to 200, we hoped to be ice free.) Because it was late in the season, I also felt that the thaw would be fairly rapid, but it looks as if the ice won’t be 100% gone until we climb a bit higher than 200.

Remember, my method in previous years was to take aerial photographs and compare them to my archived pictures, and look for the ice to melt at roughly the same pace as those previous years. In other words, I didn’t even try to factor in the forecast, unless it called for a significant run of good or bad weather.

The trick with using long-term weather forecasts to graph mean temperatures in advance is: they’re forecasts, and they go wrong. This April, forecasts were calling for miserable weather. And they were right, at first. Then as May arrived, we started to get much warmer weather than predicted. Changes to the weather forecast meant changes to the ice-out date, but not to the desired index.

I won’t be flying again until Monday. Will I find any ice at all by then? We’re looking at a warm weekend. I’m guessing not.

April 9, 2018: So Much Ice

I didn’t have the opportunity to head very far out over the lake today, but I didn’t need to.

Ice. Ice everywhere.

This first picture gives an overview.

Looking west: Longbow Lake dominates the foreground of this picture, with Pine Portage Bay and Sultana Island behind it.  Blindfold Lake is at the left edge. Zoom in to look closely at Bigstone Bay, and you’ll realize those gray patches are not slush, they’re just cloud shadows.

Let’s move a little closer to town.

Nanton’s Island and Lunny’s Island are the pair at the bottom left edge, then Town Island above and to the right of them. Keewatin Channel is in the center of this photograph, and the open water there still doesn’t connect to Safety Bay. In an average year, it would.

Zoom in, and you can see there’s a lot of new ice on Safety Bay. I am dismayed at how much has refrozen, and at how thick that fresh ice looks. It’s not just a thin skin.

After I turned back to the airport, I got a better look at Longbow. Like all the local lakes, it’s frozen from shore to shore.

Overall, there’s been no progress now for about three weeks. In fact, April has been so cold that we’ve made new ice where the water was open in March, so we’re actually moving backwards.

Worse, the forecast for the rest of April is for below-normal temperatures. We will see afternoon highs above freezing, but a normal high this time of year is more like 9°C, and there’s not one day forecast to hit that mark in the next two weeks.

While some ice will melt in the next while, we’ll have to catch up on thawing the new ice before we start making progress on the old stuff. And I’m still hearing reports from ice fishers that they’re bottoming out their augers on strong winter ice.

How bad could it be? My photographic records go back to 2003, and 2014 was the worst year I have in my archives. That year, the last ice on Lake of the Woods didn’t go until May 21. It was a spring so bad I didn’t start posting pictures until mid-April.

By the end of this week, we should be able to make direct comparisons to photographs from April 13, 2014. Here’s the ugly part. I’ve been looking at those pictures. We need to make some progress this week to match them.

 

April 10, 2017: More Progress

John and I arrived at Kenora from the east today. Dogtooth and the lakes in that area are still frozen, but the ice there is looking dark and weak. We did notice a few small patches of open water, including one near the south shore of Longbow Lake.

Here’s an overall view of the north part of Lake of the Woods taken when we were still quite high up.

Bigstone Bay, Hay Island.

It’s still almost all ice-covered, and at first I was disappointed that there hadn’t been more change.

But as we got closer, we started to notice the difference.

Hay Island, The Hades, Middle Island, Scotty Island.

Water pushing through the Barrier Islands now extends almost to Hay Island and patches are appearing in the Hades.

Click on these pictures to see a larger image that is zoomable to full resolution.

Closer to town, the waters of the Keewatin Channel are pushing ever closer to Scotty Island.

Bald Indian Bay.

In the photo above, Scotty Island is at the left edge. Water almost reaches the tip of the point by Scotty’s beach. Near the middle of the picture, water is opening up between Lunny’s Island and Bare Point.

This last shot was taken as we wheeled over Devil’s Gap.

Treaty Island, Devil’s Gap.

When the plane is banking, I usually try to hold the camera so the pictures have a level horizon, but this time I had to snap the shot before Galt Island went entirely out of sight beneath us. That water south of Roger’s Island is new. Closer to Kenora, which is at the top right corner of this photograph, the water of Devil’s Gap is close to meeting up with the water around Coney Island, with little more than the ice road separating the two.

That suggests that the  Coney Island pedestrian bridge will be coming out soon. The town removes the floating bridge when it is the only obstacle to boat traffic, that is to say, when the route is clear of ice.

I reviewed some Ice Patrol entries from recent years to see how this year compares. Both 2015 and 2016 were fairly typical years, with the Lake of the Woods totally thawed by the 3rd and 4th of May, respectively. As of now, 2017 is running a few days ahead, about equivalent to the middle of April in those years.