May 14, 2018: All Clear

I went flying today, and saw no ice on Lake of the Woods. You can click on this picture to view a larger version and zoom in to see for yourself.

In this photo, the nose of the King Air is aimed at Middle Island, with Hay Island to the left, Scotty Island just right of center, and Whiskey Island at the extreme right. The full span of the Barrier Islands is visible in the middle distance, and there’s no sign of the ice that was holding out in that area.

Yesterday’s satellite images were blurred, but some ice was visible. Today’s had some cloud cover, but by comparing two images, I was able to see pretty much the whole lake, and there was no visible ice, so I think even the ice down by Baudette is gone.

So I’m calling it. As of today, Lake of the Woods is ice free. The brick graph gets a magenta block for 2018 to celebrate.

This spring was one of the four latest springs of the sixteen on the graph; behind the curve, but not outrageously so.

To show the timing of the onset and conclusion of the thaw, here’s the finalized version of the floating bar graph. Each year’s bar starts on the Inflection Date (when the daily mean temperature rose above freezing) and ends on the date when the lake was ice free.

Depending on your monitor size and settings, you might want to zoom in on this to read the numbers. In summary, it shows that compared to other recent years, the 2018 thaw got off to a late start and then went fairly fast.

A quick note on other lakes in the region: all lakes in the Kenora, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout and Dryden area are clear of ice, with three exceptions:

  1. Shoal Lake, west of Kenora, still has a large patch of ice.
  2. Trout Lake, east of Red Lake, still has extensive ice.
  3. Lac Seoul, near Sioux Lookout, still has some ice near Kejick Bay.

I’ll be wrapping up the Ice Patrol for the season in the next few days. Thanks to everyone who visited this year- I had record traffic!

Special thanks to all who contributed with photos, comments or emails.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of my co-workers at MAG Canada.

 

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.

May 10, 2018: Remnants

Terra Satellite captured a clean image of Lake of the Woods today. Here’s how it looks in True Colour.

You can see there are three main patches of ice remaining. The bright one at the left is Shoal Lake, and the fainter one to the right of it is the area south of the Barrier Islands. The patchy one near the bottom is by Baudette.

Side note: Kenora shows very clearly on this picture as a beige blotch at the upper right. Look closely, and you can just make out three tiny dark blobs in the brightest part. Those are Rabbit Lake, Round Lake and Laurenson’s Lake!

Here’s the same image in false colour. Now that you know where to look, you should be able to spot our suburban lakes again.

The same three patches of ice are visible, but the differences in ice strength more clear.

Sometimes, very thin ice is indistinguishable from space. So I went flying and took a look from the air.

Click on any of the pictures below to see a larger version that you can zoom in on.

Middle Island and the Hades are in front of the aircraft’s nose. Scotty Island is in the center of the frame, and the patch of ice extending from Scotty to Whiskey Island is not visible from space. It is very weak, and will be gone tonight.

The larger sheet of ice is the one south of the Barrier Islands. It’s in poor shape, but it’s pretty big. We circled around it for a closer look.

This picture looks north, with Cliff Island in the foreground, and Bath Island dead center. The Barrier Islands are at the far edge of the ice, and the little patch by Scotty can be seen beyond them. Kenora is just visible as some pale specks in the far-off haze. You can’t see all of this icy area in this picture; smaller sheets of ice extend in both directions, but they’re weak and won’t last.

Our training flight took us over by Sioux Narrows. Click on the image to zoom in and see the iconic bridge in the foreground. Beyond it is Whitefish Bay, which has a reputation for thick ice, but it’s no straggler this year: it’s all open. The black and grey blur is just a propeller blade photo-bombing the picture.

This picture looks west, so in the top right corner, you can see the ice we circled around before, and far off on the horizon, the white line is the ice on Shoal Lake.

We didn’t go far south, so I didn’t get a good picture of the ice down on Big Traverse, but here’s a hazy one just to show that it’s real.

It’s not very warm today, but it is sunny and windy, so all this ice is going to have a hard time. The small patch by Scotty Island should be gone by dawn. The bigger area south of the Barrier Islands might last a day or two. I’m not sure about big sheet down on Big Traverse. It looks weak, and it’s very exposed to wind down there. It could also go in a day or two. The ice on Shoal Lake looks stronger. It might last three days or so.

Sean C. will update his graph tomorrow because he’s been saying for some time that May 11 would be the day we’ll hit a thaw index of 200, enough heat to melt all the ice we made last winter. I’ll recap his method tomorrow; it worked very well this year, and shows great promise for predicting future spring thaws.

April 4, 2018: Philip Vrsnik

I’ve been out of town for most of the last two days, so I’m playing catch-up. I’m uploading this on April 6, but I’m dating it April 4, because that’s when the photos were taken.

On Wednesday, I went flying in the afternoon, but it was snowing pretty hard, so I couldn’t take pictures. Luckily, Philip Vrsnik passed overhead in the morning, before the snow started. Here’s what he sent me.

Philip was on the right side of the eastbound plane, so he’s looking south. This photo is centered on Shammis and Crow Rock Island, the western pair of Barrier Islands. Whiskey Island’s distinctive Y shape marks the Manitou. Most of what you see in the foreground is the Northern Peninsula.

You can click on Philip’s pictures to see a larger, zoomable version.

Next is a look at the area closer to Kenora.

Dead center in this picture is Middle Island, with Hay Island behind and to the left, and Scotty Island in front and to the right. The vertical line of shining open water more to the lower left is Devil’s Gap, and the water at the bottom of the picture, by the wisps of cloud, is Safety Bay.

Last, a shot of some of the eastern bays.

At the bottom left, Northern Harbour’s docks on Pine Portage Bay are visible. Above that, Bigstone Bay, Hay Island, Moore Bay, Andrew Bay and Witch Bay. In the distance, Long Bay, and stretching to the top of the picture, Whitefish Bay.

Thanks again to Philip Vrsnik, who sent me these pictures.

You’ll notice there’s next to no open water to speak of. Snow cover is patchy, but none of the ice has really started to darken.

I don’t have any pictures from Thursday; I got home late and it was cloudy. I have no flights on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but I’m back in the air on Monday. Since they’re not forecasting any above freezing temperatures until then, I don’t think I’m going to miss much.

The fourteen day forecast is currently showing below normal temperatures right through to April 20, and not every day in the coming two weeks will rise above freezing. As springs go, this is shaping up to be a late one.

 

 

April 3, 2018: Tom Lindstrom

I’m putting up a second post this evening because Tom Lindstrom just sent me these great pictures he took from the cockpit of an airliner flying east over Lake of the Woods at about 37,000 feet.

First up, West Hawk Lake!

I’m thrilled to have this, as I rarely have opportunities to range that far west. From the grey colour of the ice, I’m guessing West Hawk got rain like Kenora did last Wednesday, but not the snow that followed it.

Next, Clearwater and Ptarmigan Bays.

Echo Bay and Shoal Lake Narrows are in the foreground.

You can click on Tom’s photographs to see them full screen and full resolution.

A closer look at the Manitou and the Barrier Islands.

There are tiny patches of open water in Crow Rock Channel and at the western tip of Allie Island. They don’t appear to have grown in the last two weeks. Andrew Bay and Witch Bay can be seen at the top right of this photograph.

A nice view of Scotty, Middle and Hay Islands.

This picture gives a closer look at that water by Allie Island in the foreground, and you can zoom in to take a look at Pine Portage Bay, Thunder Bay and Longbow Lake in the background.

The high altitude view from more directly overhead makes gray patches stand out more clearly. That’s a hopeful sign that some of the ice is starting to lose its snow cover.

Thanks, Tom, for these great shots, and for being my first guest photographer of the year.

March 22, 2018: First Shades of Grey

Just a quick update today. James and I had the opportunity to swing out over the lake before lining up with the runway at Kenora’s airport. I’ll begin with an overall perspective.

This photograph is centered on Middle Island, looking north towards town in the distance, so those are the Hades islands in the foreground, and the northern tip of Hay  Island at the very bottom of the picture. Scotty Island is above and left of center. As you can see, it’s all frozen, and still has good snow cover.

Next, the latest on Keewatin Channel.

The open water has reached Shragge’s Island. If you click to zoom in, you can also see that water is reaching out from Keewatin to the western tip of Yacht Club Island.

That’s only one of the reasons I included this photograph. It’s subtle, but the snow-cover is losing its pure white colour and developing faint patches of pale gray. I’m not talking about the big cloud shadows. You have to zoom in to see them, but there are tiny patches of scruffier snow, the first signs that the cover layer is starting to yield.

Last, as we turn towards the airport, a quick look at Devil’s Gap.

Looking east along part of Treaty Island, with a little bit of Gun Club Island at the lower left, we can see that water is beginning to spread from Devil’s Gap towards Rat Portage Bay and Gun Club Island, but the ice roads there still look strong. So do the roads around Roger Island, right of center. Note: Gun Club and Rogers are both late melters. The ice roads run near them for a reason.

Loosely speaking, places closer to town with strong currents go first. Examples: Safety Bay, Keewatin Channel and Scotty Island. Places further out, especially those with weak currents, go later. For instance: Bigstone Bay and the Manitou. Please keep that trend in mind when you’re wondering why I’m not photographing your area yet. I’m probably waiting for it to start showing signs.  A few distant places have current, and go early, but you can’t get there by boat until everything melts between them and your boat launch. Example: Big Narrows. Shoal Lake goes last, typically four or five days after the last ice on LotW.

There’s one other factor: it’s easier for me to fly near the Kenora airport because I’m always going there to land. I get fewer opportunities to range as far afield as Clearwater Bay or Sioux Narrows, but I do make an extra effort when things start to melt in those areas.

I just looked back at my pictures from this time last year and the year before. We’re nowhere near where we were on March 23, 2017, (an early year) and not as far along as March 21, 2016, (a typical year), either. But I think I’m prepared to start the six-week countdown now. That doesn’t mean I think we’ll be ice free in exactly six weeks, which works out to May 3rd. It might be possible, given favourable conditions, but I think somewhere between the 6th and the 10th of May would be easier to believe, given a typical range of weather. If you find that disheartening, bear in mind that that’s a guess at when Lake of the Woods might be completely ice free. If your camp is closer to town, you may not have to wait so long.

April 20, 2017: Tipping Point

It’s been a whole week since I could upload pictures, so I’m very glad I could take some new ones today. A lot has changed.

We have reached the tipping point. In the early spring, I take pictures of patches of water surrounded by ice. When we reach the halfway point, my pictures start to be of the ice/water boundary areas.

Okay, let’s go.

Longbow Lake, Pine Portage Bay, Bigstone Bay.

This first shot looks south west. Longbow Lake is at the left, Pine Portage Bay is more to the right, and the big patch of ice is Bigstone Bay. Note that Longbow is completely open. In Pine Portage Bay, Northern Harbour has some water to work with, but you cannot yet sail out of the bay onto the rest of the lake.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version that’s zoomable to full resolution. That’s especially handy if you want to see something in the distance.

Next, we moved straight ahead to get closer to Hay Island.

Bigstone Bay, Hay Island.

Thunder Bay, home of Smith Camps, is at the left, with Long Point separating it from Pine Portage Bay, but Northern Harbour is just out of sight under the plane’s nose. There’s open water in those small bays, but as usual, ice in Bigstone Bay is holding out, making it tough to reach the area around Middle Island and Hay Island.

We went a little further to get a good look at Middle Island and Scotty Island.

Middle Island, Scotty Island.

The water’s wide open all the way to Scotty Island now, although a little pan ice is clinging to the north shore. Middle Island is mostly open, but it would be tricky to reach it from the east side. In the distance, you can see that Andrew Bay is open, but  there’s still lots of ice south of the Barrier Islands. Also notice that the Manitou is only open as far as Whiskey Island. Beyond that, the ice looks quite strong.

This next shot shifts the view to the right, looking more directly west.

Whiskey Island, Wolf Island, Thompson Island.

Town Island is just to the right of the aircraft’s nose in the picture above with just a little ice trapped around Galt Island. Roger’s Island and Treaty Island are open.

Let’s take a closer look at that area.

Treaty Island, Coney Island, Kenora.

We’ve climbed quite high now, so this shot shows the whole area from Galt Island at the lower left corner, past Treaty Island near the center, to downtown Kenora at the right. Devil’s Gap is clear, and the ice is all gone in  Rat Portage Bay, with Gun Club Island wide open.

Next, a different view of the Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake area.

Bald Indian Bay, Pine Portage Bay, Longbow Lake, Bigstone Bay.

This time we’re looking south east, so you can see all of Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake, and the far end of Bigstone Bay. The ice on Bigstone still looks pretty sturdy.

This last shot covers downtown again, but I’m including it because it looks west and offers a better view of Darlington Bay, and in the distance, Clearwater Bay and Shoal Lake.

Rat Portage Bay, Safety Bay, Darlington Bay, Winnipeg River.

We didn’t have time to fly further west, so Garrett snapped this shot from the pilot’s side while I took the controls for a moment. Darlington Bay is open. In the distance, Clearwater still has quite a bit of ice, and from the looks of it, Shoal Lake is still mostly frozen, at least the south part.

At the time I took these pictures, the pedestrian footbridge to Coney Island was still in place. You can just make it out behind the wing if you zoom in on this shot. But now that the ice is not an obstacle to boat traffic, the bridge will be coming out.

As we left town behind, we got rather too high to get good pictures, but we noticed that both Upper and Lower Black Sturgeon are open, while Silver Lake still has ice. Even further north, in my old float-plane stomping grounds, Maynard Lake and Oak Lake are about half open.

What does all this mean, in terms of how long until all the ice is gone on Lake of the Woods? With huge stretches of the lake open, the wind is able to really drive the ice and break it up.

I looked at some past years, and hunted for pictures with about the same amount of ice remaining. I would say we are now about ten days ahead of 2015 and 2016. That suggests that we have only a few days to go. Under ideal conditions, we could see the ice disappear this weekend. But. The weekend forecast is for single-digit highs, and overnight lows below freezing. Let’s just say within a week, and cross our fingers.