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!



April 4, 2021: Shoal Lake to Kenora

Some new aerial photographs from Josh Broten, and also the first drone picture of the year, taken by George Dyker over Clytie Bay, a popular cottage area on Shoal Lake. All were taken Saturday.

Let’s start with Josh’s overview of Shoal.

You can click on these pictures to see them full screen and full size.

Northwest Angle, Shoal Lake.

Looking north from over the Northwest Angle towards Shoal Lake. Lots of water and only pan ice in the Angle. In the distance, the ice looks poor on Shoal.

Monument Bay, Shoal Lake.

Here’s a slightly closer look at Shoal, with the camera pointing north west over Monument Bay, so that Shoal Lakes large Dominique and Stevens Island appear side by side. Mason Lake and part of Reid Lake are a the right side of the frame.

Now George Dyker’s drone shot of Clytie Bay on Shoal. George operates a DJI drone.

Shoal Lake’s Clytie Bay.

This view looks south west, with the open water at Gateway Point in the foreground. That ice road that heads off onto the main body of the lake looks to be in one piece, but it’s riddled with cracks.

Now, back to our tour with Josh’s Cub, picking things up at the south end of the lake, where Josh is based.

Oak Island, Flag Island, Brush Island.

We’re back by the NW Angle, looking at the area by the international border. The open water is mainly by Flag Island, which has a webcam, by the way. You can find a link to it on the Lake of the Woods Links sidebar.*

*When viewed on a desktop or large tablet, Ice Patrol offers a number of features on a sidebar to the right of the main column. These include Recent Comments, a Search Tool, a Flag Counter, the Archive Tool, and an extensive list of links that may be of interest to lake dwellers and visitors.  However, if you’re in the habit of viewing Ice Patrol on a phone, or via the email subscriber list, you may not see the sidebar.

Also a link to my writing blog. Support me by buying my SF novel, AVIANS. It’s about girl power, alternative aviation, and volcanoes! E-book and trade paperbacks available. Averaging 4.5% stars last time I checked.

Oak Point, Big Narrows.

Looking south. The patch of open water in the foreground is right at Oak Point, and there’s open water almost all the way through Big Narrows. At the left, on the far side of Big Narrows Island and Tranquil Channel, there’s some open water through French Portage Narrows.

Chisholm Island, Cliff Island.

Looking north west, with Chisholm Island at the bottom of the frame, and Cliff Island at the left. The Alneau Peninsula is just off the picture to the left, and the Barrier Islands are near the upper right corner. Prominent pressure ridges show the strain on the ice.

Let’s finish Josh’s tour with a shot of the Kenora area.

Poplar Bay, Keewatin Channel, Rat Portage Bay.

Centered on Keewatin Channel, this picture looks north east towards Rat Portage Bay, Safety Bay and Kenora. Poplar Bay is in the lower left corner.

The ice is weakening, slowly but steadily. Warm temperatures all week, with daily highs in the double digits, should help.

In the meantime, a reminder. Ontario went back into a province-wide lockdown on Saturday, April 3rd, and is expected to stay that way for a four week “emergency brake.” Hairdressers are closed, restaurants are take-out only, and stores are restricted to half or quarter occupancy, depending on how essential they are. More details here.



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.


April 18, 2020: Cold April / Josh Broten / Satellite Saturday

It’s been quite cool since I last posted an update, with some recent overnight lows dipping to the -12 to -16ºC range. Those were the worst nights, but daytime highs have rarely reached seasonal norms.

On Tunnel Island, fresh ice formed on the duck pond every night, and retreated each afternoon. It hasn’t been ice-free yet.

Over the last weeks, typical temperatures for this time of year would be highs of about 9ºC paired with lows just below freezing. In the later weeks of April, those average highs rise a few degrees.

Friday was supposed to be the warmest day in a while, and it still fell short of normal.

As for the rest of the month, there aren’t any warm spells forecast, just a string of almost normal temperatures.

Signs of spring: gnats are out. I inhaled one today. But it’s still not warm enough to take the winter tires off.

Here are some aerial photos from regular contributor Josh Broten. He’s based out of Rosseau, MN, so he takes pictures at the south west corner of the lake.

This one shows the condition of the ice at the south end of the lake. You can see it’s rotten, candling, and has patches of surface water.

You can click on Josh’s pictures to see them full-screen and zoomable to full resolution.

This is the Northwest Angle, looking north with Shoal Lake in the background. Josh says he doesn’t see any water on Shoal yet.

Here’s Josh’s look north east at Big Narrows, Tranquil Channel and French Portage Narrows.  Most of what you see in this picture is Falcon Island. The bay in the foreground with the island that looks like a fidget spinner is Deepwater Bay.

Thanks, Josh.

There haven’t been many good satellite images recently. There were cloudy days and some of the good days had blurred pictures for our area. Here’s one from yesterday.

The satellite images are not zoomable: the resolution is one pixel for a quarter of a square kilometer. If you click on it (if I did it right) you’ll see an archive image with  some features of the lake marked to help you get oriented.

This is from the MODIS camera on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Despite the focus being a bit soft, you can make out the open water at Big Narrows, and you can see that although the ice is still widespread, the condition of it is weakening.

Aside from the cool temperatures, there are other impediments to lake life this season.

This quote from FOCA, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, regarding marinas:

…as reported by our colleagues at Boating Ontario, many marinas are currently not allowing any launches or mooring, and/or are on restricted access for service or repair. While marinas are listed among Ontario’s “essential services” the posting notes “only to the extent that the marina is necessary to enable individuals to access their primary place of residence.” See an April 10, 2020 letter to Boating Ontario from MTO. For links to several postings, visit:

Retail businesses are also transformed. You can only buy limited quantities of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach, and other items in high demand. People wearing masks are becoming a more common sight.

Wal-Mart, Safeway, and the LCBO and others are restricting the number of shoppers in the store, and are doing the one-way traffic thing in the aisles with floor arrows. Many other outlets, such as Canadian Tire and Home Hardware, only allow telephone ordering and pickup.

Kenora has its first confirmed case of Covid-19. The person is said to acquired the virus out of province, and is now self-isolating, having had few contacts.

Sorry to harp on it, but inessential travel is not recommended.

Health authorities say, “Covid season is not cottage season.”

April 7, 2020: Three Contributors

Even though I’m grounded, the pictures are rolling in.

First, a couple of aerial photos from Andy Zabloski. He’s the friend who my employer—MAG Canada—kept on while business is down to almost nothing. He offered to take pictures if he got any trips, and today he came through.

This is centered on Keewatin, and looks south east down Bigstone Bay. Click on it to see it full screen, and zoom that image to full resolution by clicking on it again.

What this picture shows:

In the lower left corner of the frame, there’s open water on the Winnipeg River from the headwaters to well north of the bypass.

Darlington Bay, which runs from the center of the picture to the right edge, is still frozen.

There’s quite a lot of open water from Safety Bay out towards Keewatin Channel. It’s interrupted by ice around the Yacht Club, but it is improving.

I have another picture from Andy, but first let’s compare his aerial shot to what you see if you walk along the waterfront. Here’s a picture from Graham Gork.

At first glance, you might think there’s hardly any ice left. I’ve had emails at this time of year saying things like, “Hey, I drove through Kenora and the lake was open!” But as you can see in the first photo, the vast majority of the lake is still iced over.

What would Graham have seen if he rose up a few thousand feet? Let’s get back to Andy’s second shot.

This is a look south at the Keewatin Channel. The west end of Treaty Island is at the lower left. Town Island is left of center. Scotty Island is just above the middle of the frame, with Middle Island and Hay Island behind it to the left. The main thing this photo shows is that the current is eroding the ice between Scotty and Shragge’s Island and Channel Island.

This is a pretty typical pattern. I looked back at my archives to see how this area looked at this time last year, and the ice was more solid on April 10th last year than now. So that’s the good news.

The bad news is we’re in for several days of near-freezing temperatures. The current forecast calls for nothing above 4ºC this coming weekend, and even chillier conditions next week. So I don’t expect much progress.

Our third contributor today is Josh Broten. He had his Cub aloft from Rosseau, Minnesota.

This is Buffalo Bay, and Josh took the picture to show how the snow cover is gone from Big Traverse and the southern part of the lake.

Pointing his camera north, he got this picture of the Northwest Angle Inlet and Shoal Lake.

Although the ice is quite bare, there’s no significant open water here.

Josh’s third photo shows Oak Island from the south. The border between the USA and Canada runs across this picture.

That patch of water between Windfall Island, in the center of the frame, and Falcon Island, at the right edge, is on the Canadian side. Oak Island, in the center foreground, is on the American side. Shoal Lake is visible in the distance, at the upper left.

Thanks to Andy and Quinn, Graham, and Josh.


May 4, 2019: Josh Broten

It’s been a crazy day here in the Ice Patrol headquarters. If you’re picturing that as a busy newsroom with bustling staff, downsize that to a desk in a home office with one frazzled guy and a husky that would like to go to bed.

I got some fresh aerial photos from a fellow called Josh Broten, who flies a Legend Cub.

These pictures are from the area around the Northwest Angle where the US/Canada border takes an unusual turn or two.

Josh says: Over Oak Island looking northwest. You can see Shoal Lake in the upper left hand corner of the picture.

Oak Island is right in the corner of the US/Canada border, southwest of Big Narrows, or north of Big Traverse. I can’t believe how much water has opened up in this area.

Josh’s second picture was taken in almost the same area, but looks more northeast.

Josh says: Above Cyclone Island looking north northeast towards French Portage.

Water. Water everywhere. Despite cool temperatures, the ice seems to be in full retreat. The little patches of shoreline ice in these pictures won’t last long- probably not 24 hours. Off in the distance, I see larger sheets of ice near the horizon, probably north of the Alneau Peninsula. That might be more persistent.

April 27, 2019: Satellite Saturday

We’ve had some cloud cover this week, but skies cleared for today’s pass by NASA’s Terra satellite.

Need some help getting oriented? See the FAQ page for a similar photo with some key locations labelled. Or try this Google Maps link.

Here’s the MODIS camera image in false colour, which makes it easier to distinguish water from land. Strong ice is pale blue, thinning ice is darker, and open water is almost black.

You can click on these pictures to see them full-screen, but the full size of these cropped images are only 800×800 pixels: a square kilometer is imaged as just four pixels.

Several areas are showing more open water lately. At the south end of the lake, the Rainy River is opening things up, although the ice on Big Traverse still appears quite solid.

It looks like ice is letting go on Sabaskong Bay all the way from Morson to Nestor Falls!

Also, there’s lots of newly open water between the Northwest Angle and Big Narrows. This conforms with Matthew Render’s picture from yesterday.

Here’s the exact same image in natural colour. The ice stands out well, but both land and water look dark, making them much harder to tell apart.

If you’re visiting Ice Patrol from far away, it might surprise you to hear that although the sun is shining, it’s only 7ºC as I write this at 3:00 in the afternoon. Last night’s low was -2ºC. There are a few more days of below-normal temperatures in the forecast, but with open water expanding from isolated patches to large expanses, the wind will be able to smash some ice.

If you’d like to see how things have changed over the last week, here’s a link to Satellite Saturday from one week ago.

ERRATUM: yesterday’s post featuring pictures from Matthew Render was incorrectly dated April 25, 2019. The correct date was April 26th, and the post has been amended. If you are still seeing the wrong date, try hitting refresh on your browser.

Update: the MODIS images from Aqua satellite came online a few hours later. Here’s the sister picture to the one at the top of this post.

It’s the same of course, except for a few more clouds.