May 14, 2022: Courtesy of MAG Canada

Early this morning, I received two photos from Jared Cantor. He took them yesterday morning from an airliner on the way from Toronto to Winnipeg. Jared was sitting on the left side of the plane, so his window seat looked south. Here’s what he saw from about 30,000 feet.

Click on these pictures to enlarge them.

Bigsby Island, Big Island and Big Traverse.

Everything’s big on this end of the lake. Above and left of centre are slender Pine Island and Sable Island,  Four Mile Bay, and the mouth of the Rainy River. The patch of ice is near Long Point.

Big Traverse, Buffalo Bay, Buffalo Point, Muskeg Bay, and Warroad, Minnesota.

In this second view from a minute or two later, the right side of the frame shows the view south across Buffalo Bay to Buffalo Point. Beyond that is Muskeg Bay and Warroad, Minnesota. The big patch of ‘land’ in the middle of the picture is actually another expanse of ice.

Thanks, Jared!

The photos above were omitted from the first version of this post. I meant to include them but lost track.

Knowing where we stood yesterday, I was very eager to go flying today. I knew there couldn’t be much ice left. I wanted to see what there was, to get the best idea of when the last of it will be gone.

So I called my old friends at MAG Canada to see if I could book a short flight. They wouldn’t take my money. They insisted on giving me a free flight for old time’s sake. I always knew that the company supported me and Ice Patrol on a local level, but I was touched to hear that this was supported by the head office. Thanks, Mark!

So I met up with Andy Zabloski at the hangar, and we went for a short tour. I wanted to head down towards Sioux Narrows, because I haven’t had any pictures from that direction recently.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version.

Bigstone Bay. Sultana Island and Quarry Island are in the middle of the picture.

The first thing we noticed was that there was no ice at all left in Bigstone Bay. Sometimes Heenan Point or Needle point will trap some late ice, but not today. All the bays in this area are completely ice-free.

We had set off to look at Andrew Bay, Witch Bay and so on, but we couldn’t find any ice in that region at all, so we turned towards areas more likely to have late ice.

The first ice we did see was in the Manitou.

The Manitou. Bare Point in the foreground, Town Island in the middle.

There is ice here, but not very much. It’s hugging the shore of Wolf Island and Hare Island.

Here’s what it looks like from Devon Ostir’s dock cam on Hare Island.

He’s promised to send me an update when his shore is clear of ice. Thanks, Devon!

Now back to our flight. There’s usually late ice south of the Barrier Islands, but we didn’t see anything obvious, so we went further south to see if we could spot any at the south end of the lake.

Cliff Island and the Alneau Peninsula. Little Traverse is in the distance.

It was a long way away, and the patchy light from a broken cloud layer makes it hard to be certain, but I think there’s some ice down by Bay Island, in the Little Traverse.

Next we turned north to take a closer look at the Barrier Islands.

The Barrier Islands.

We had missed it at first glance, because it’s not a big sheet, but there’s some ice against the south shore of Shammis Island, very near the centre of this picture. Zoom in to see it, and the larger area of ice in the Manitou that we saw before.

The Manitou also has another ice remnant around Wolf Island.

Wolf Island, Welcome Channel, Thompson Island, Holmstrom’s Marsh.

There’s still some soft pan ice drifting in this area. In this picture, it’s right by the propeller blade, near Houghs Island, but it’s probably on the move.

We got a nice shot of the Scotty Island to Hay Island area.

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

We found no ice at all in this area, and that also includes Slate Island, Railway Island, Queer Island and Square Island.

That concluded our look at the ice on Lake of the Woods. In short, we found almost none. If it’s not gone tonight, it certainly will be by Monday morning.

Here’s a picture from Kelly Belair, showing what some of the ice looks like when it piles up on a reef. This was taken near Rocky Point at about mid-day today. He says the picture doesn’t do it justice.

Ice pile by Rocky Point.

By the way, ice remnants are not the only boating hazard right now. Because of the high water levels, there are lots of deadheads and debris in the water. Parts from damaged docks and cribs have been reported.

All marinas should be operable now, but they’ll have a lot of catching up to do.

One last picture from our flight. As we were circling to return to the airport, we flew over Upper Black Sturgeon Lake. Water levels are up there, because the Winnipeg River is so high that it’s flowing into the Black Sturgeon Lakes, instead of the other way around. This was apparently an overstatement. River levels are high enough that the Black Sturgeon Lakes are not draining normally, but I heard recently that the rollers are still above water, so the river is not actually higher than the lakes. At least, not yet.

Beauty Bay Golf Course.

As just one example of how bad it is, the water is lapping at the clubhouse of the Beauty Bay Golf Course. The front parking lot and dock area (near the middle of this picture) are submerged.

So a special thanks to Andy and my old colleagues at MAG for this farewell flight. I got to ride one more time in GTWW, a plane I flew for thirty-two years and (checks logbook) over 5000 hours. Sad sniff.

Signs of spring:

My dog found a bee today.

Motorhomes and campers. Boat Trailers. Generally heavy traffic. Potholes with a capital P.

Ice Patrol will be wrapping up for the year soon. We’ll try to establish the actual date the ice was all gone, and we’ll update the graphs accordingly. I’m still hoping for a nice satellite image of an ice-free lake to round things off.

If you found Ice Patrol valuable this year, let me just mention that I did insert a donations form back in March. It uses the services of Stripe, and works in US dollars. Traffic is way up since March, so here’s a link to it, in case you missed it, and feel like it. The form is at the bottom of this post from March 16. Every donation is appreciated, but there’s no obligation. It’s entirely up to you.

 

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 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.

May 5, 2019: Kevin Walsten

I’ve been trying to put together an update for the Minaki area for over a week now, but my flights north all seemed to detour east first.

Kevin Walsten went out in his Super Cub today, and sent me these pictures.

Kevin says: Picture taken May 5 Gunn Lake looking north at Little Sand and Big Sand lakes.

Digital cameras do weird things with propeller blades. Minaki can be seen between these two.

On his southbound return leg, he took this shot.

Kevin says: Looking south east at Big Sand and a bit of Rough Rock Lake.

Still some shore to shore ice in this area. Thanks, Kevin.

Cloudy weather continues to impede the satellites. Terra got a better look than Aqua today, but you can still only see the south end of the lake.

I’ve used the same selection frame of 800×800 pixels as usual, but all that’s visible are Muskeg Bay at the bottom left, and the mouth of the Rainy River to the right of that. As seen in Josh’s photos yesterday, there’s big change happening on that part of the lake.

Is the rest of Lake of the Woods melting as fast? I’m not sure: Big Traverse is very susceptible to windy conditions, but the more northerly parts of the lake are full of islands. There’s still wind movement, but not on the same scale. Also, if the satellite images are anything to go by, we’ve been having a lot less sunshine in the north.

Signs of spring: I saw my first loon today, on Rabbit Lake. No ice anywhere on Rabbit, by the way, not even a handful.  Some float planes are out: Kevin’s for one. Our Lilac hedge is starting to bud, so trees should finally start to turn green.

In the meantime, though, the weather will remain cold for another day before temperatures reluctantly creep up to the low double digits on Tuesday. A normal high this time of year is about 15ºC, and the Weather Network isn’t forecasting anything quite that warm in the next two weeks.

Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol is celebrating some growth this spring.

It’s been busy: I’ve written 47 blog posts in 49 days, reviewed over 600 photographs, and processed and posted about 175 of them.

Ice Patrol hit new highs for numbers of visits, shattering the old mark of 10,000 visits in a week by hitting 14,000 last week and topping 16,000 this week.

Comments have increased too, offering more reports and fresh insights.

I had more help this spring. As always, my coworkers at MAG Canada pitched in, and this year over a dozen guest contributors sent in waterfront pictures or aerial photos. This helped immensely, allowing Ice Patrol to cover more of the lake and filling gaps in my flight schedule.

Thanks, everyone!

May 4, 2019: Update

Some waterfront pictures from guest contributors first, then a satellite update.

Brenda Stewart sent  this picture of the ice retreating on Longbow Lake.

Brenda says: The wind is really pushing the ice off of Longbow Lake today.

Brad Douglas submitted this shot of Echo Bay.

Brad says: This is taken today, May 4 on the south end of Echo Bay pointing north. It is the deep part that usually doesn’t freeze until Clearwater Bay does due to the depth. The wind is really knocking down the ice and breaking it up with large sheets floating past my cottage. The rest of Echo Bay is clear.

My wife and I took a drive to Winnipeg today for some errands. Caroline took this picture of Falcon Lake from the car as we drove past.

There’s some ice in the distance, along the south shore, but there’s lots of open water now.

Now a satellite update. We’ve been under cloud layers a lot lately, but skies cleared a little today and Terra was able to image some of our region. Compare this to the partial picture from two days ago in the previous Ice Patrol post.

The blue streaks are probably high altitude clouds composed of ice crystals.

See the FAQ page for a similar satellite image with some key locations marked.

The central part of the lake, from the Northwest angle across the Alneau Peninsula is obscured by that pretty blue cloud, but the north and south areas are visible.

Let’s start with the north end of the lake. Almost in the middle of the picture, I think I see water at the east end of Ptarmigan Bay and White Partridge Bay. At the time this image was captured, Clearwater Bay was still mostly ice, but strong wind was bringing rapid change everywhere.

Left of centre, Shoal Lake is darkening, and it looks as if the north shore is open.

In the  south, Buffalo Bay and Muskeg Bay, at the bottom left, are opening up. The north part of the Sabaskong seems to have cleared, possibly due to ice shifting south. Close to the bottom of the picture, the Rainy River is flowing into a huge area of open water on the Big Traverse.

We were warmer than expected today, and although the temperature remained lower than normal for this time of year, the wind worked hard to make up for it. If that continues, large areas of the lake could be open for boating by the time the weekend’s over. Sunday’s supposed to be cooler, but still windy; Monday cool and merely breezy.

 

 

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.

 

April 13, 2019: Satellite Saturday

On Friday we came home during a spell of poor weather, and although we caught glimpses of the lake between the clouds and flurries, trying to take photographs would have been pointless.

But today the weather cleared right up in time for the Aqua and Terra satellites to get fairly good pictures.

The left half of the picture is blurred, (different satellite pass, I’m guessing) but still good enough to see the large features. I’ve circled three of interest:

The large red ellipse at the top includes not only the southern portions of the Winnipeg River, but also, at the bottom of the ring, a recently enlarged area of water around Channel Island or perhaps The Tangle.

The middle ring is Big Narrows, and it looks like there may have been some expansion of the open water there.

The ring at the bottom shows water pushing into Lake of the Woods from the mouth of the Rainy River. That’s new. It first showed up a few days ago.

Here’s a photograph from a week ago, for comparison.

There’s more good news. We might finally have reached the point where we spend more time above freezing than below. The next few days look promising, with forecast highs of 5º to 8ºC and overnight lows of 0º to -3ºC.

For almost a month now, weather forecasts have been saying warmer weather is just a week away. It still says that, and to be clear, they’re not talking about above normal temperatures. But it looks as if we might see a gradual improvement towards seasonal norms. That would be daytime highs of 10ºC, and overnight lows of about -1ºC. Let’s hope it doesn’t slip away this time.