April 6, 2019: Satellite Saturday

I haven’t flown for a little while. Thursday’s flight tests* were postponed because someone got sick, and Friday’s trip was cancelled due to heavy fog in the morning.

*Commercial pilots do quite a lot of training every year. For each type of plane we fly, there’s ground school and exams, flight training and a flight test where we deal with simulated emergencies and field questions from the examiner. In addition to my own two annual ‘rides’ [MAG Canada operates two different models of King Air, and I fly both] I also participate in training flights and rides for several other pilots.

The weather’s been cloudy lately, but skies cleared early enough today for cameras on both Terra and Aqua satellites to get fresh images of Lake of the Woods.

Both shots are a little blurry. In the Aqua satellite’s false colour image above, you can see a wiggly black line in the upper part of the frame. That’s the open water on the Winnipeg River and it’s almost continuous from Kenora to Minaki.

Another change is close to the center of the picture: open water is expanding in Big Narrows, and surrounding ice conditions look darker there over quite a large area.

There was more cloud cover when Terra took a shot, but both satellites show ice in a darker shade around the Whitefish Bay area near Sioux Narrows at the lower right of the frame. That should represent a large area of weakening ice or at least ice with less snow cover. This is probably partly due to the rain we had yesterday.

All the links under the Satellite Pictures heading have been updated, so if you’d like to see the same pictures in Natural colour, you can visit the University of Wisconsin’s site to see that and other options. The MODIS cameras on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites deliver both natural and false colour images, and the USA3 compilations encompass a huge swath of Canada from Lake of the Woods to the Great Lakes.

March 31, 2018: About Snow Cover

Our cold snap is refreezing quiet areas of open water. This is a view from one of the hiking trails on Tunnel Island.

Zoom in, and you’ll see that none of that surface is water.

This year, I’ve been talking a lot about snow cover. Here’s why, in pictures.

Satellite pictures, to be specific, taken by the MODIS cameras on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. You cannot zoom in on these pictures; they’re already at 100%. To see a satellite picture with the key parts of the lake labeled, click on the FAQ tab and scroll to the bottom.

This was taken yesterday: March 30, 2018. As you can see, there’s a lot of snow cover on the lake, although ice is starting to show through at the south end. I should mention that this is a colour photograph- it’s the landscape that’s black and white.

I couldn’t find a cloud-free picture for the right time of year from 2017 or 2016, but here’s a fairly clear one from March 29, 2015.

You’ll notice two things. The ice is blue, and there’s much less snow on the land. Further, I’m pretty sure those dark spots on the Big Traverse are patches of open water.

I’ll save you the trouble of going to the FAQ page to look it up on the graph; 2015 was a normal year, with the lake ice-free in the first days of May. This year’s snow cover looks nothing like 2015. And where the ice is showing through, it has not begun to darken.

So… gloom.

April 12, 2017: Not Much Change

We’ve had sunny skies, but nighttime temperatures have been below freezing. That doesn’t stop the currents from eating away at the ice, but it slows things down enough that there hasn’t been a lot of change over the last couple of days.

Today’s satellite photo from the MODIS camera on the Terra satellite shows that Lake of the Woods is still close to 90% ice-covered. The biggest change seems to be between Big Narrows and the North West Angle.

Still, I was in the air today, and sunlight gives the best contrast for aerial photography, so here’s what we got.

Hay Island, Middle Island, Scotty Island.

I’ve tried to show the same areas that I photographed early this week, so that you can see what progress there is. The top photo shows slight enlargement of the open water encroaching on Hay Island and the Hades, and that patch of water at the far end of Scotty Island is new.

Don’t forget to click on these pictures to see a larger image that you can zoom in on to better see what’s going on in the distance. We didn’t have time to fly down for a closer look, but I think there’s a lot more open water down by Big Narrows. That’s near the upper edge of this photograph, above the center.

On to Keewatin Channel.

Town Island, Keewatin Channel, Devil’s Gap.

If you’re in crossing the Keewatin Bridge and heading through Norman, it looks like the whole lake must be open. But no. You could reach some parts of Town Island by boat now, for instance, but most of Town Island’s shores are still locked in ice. Over at Devils’ Gap, Roger’s Island is seeing more water along the shoreline, but only a little. In the middle distance at the right of this picture, you can see that Rat Portage Bay is slowly opening up on the town side of Devil’s Gap, but Gun Club Island is still surrounded by ice.

I’ll finish with a look at some of the little lakes in town.

Laurenson’s Lake, Round Lake, Rabbit Lake.

Laurenson’s Lake is starting to open up. The shoreline of Round Lake is letting go, and the remaining ice looks very weak. Rabbit Lake, which I was sure would be wide open early this week, has some open water at the west end, but ice is still holding on most of the lake.


March 1, 2017: Welcome back

Hi, everyone.

Over the last few weeks, I have received quite a few notifications as new people signed up to follow Ice Patrol, and I notice website traffic is up recently, too. So I offer warm greetings to both old friends and new acquaintances. Welcome to Ice Patrol 2017.

We had some record-breaking warm daytime high temperatures in Kenora this February, and even one or two nights where the temperature stayed above freezing. A similar thing happened last year, and I jumped to the conclusion that we’d have an early thaw, and fired up the Ice Patrol early.

I got schooled. Last year, after that false start, spring temperatures plummeted back down and stayed miserably cold for weeks. I ended up doing a lot of extra flights with little to report. This year, I won’t try to jump the gun. I regard the recent mild spell as something of a fluke, and sure enough, it all  refroze stronger than ever.

One ice-fisher reported to me that he had drilled through about 20″ of ice before the warm weather melted the snow cover and formed a layer of water and slush. When temperatures returned to normal, all that slop froze solid, and now there’s well over two feet of clear blue ice, at least where he was checking.

That sounds depressing, but it’s not really a bad thing. Getting rid of the snow is a basic first step in the annual thaw. We’ve had a fresh layer of snow since then, but it’s thin.

Here’s what Lake of the Woods looks like to the MODIS camera on the Terra satellite, as of February 28th.


Photo used with permission of Liam Gumley at the Space Science and Engineering Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Fun fact: that’s a colour photo; there’s just not much colour in our landscape right now.

There’s more mild weather coming soon, and I’ll have some good opportunities for  Ice Patrol flights before mid-March. We’ll take a closer look then.

April 27, 2016: Progress

We approached Kenora from the North this afternoon, and as the airport was busy with other arrivals and departures, we swung west to let the traffic die down a bit.

Since we were in the neighbourhood, I pointed my smartphone at Clearwater Bay.

Click on these pictures to see the full-size version that you can zoom in on.


Clearwater Bay

This shot was taken looking southwest towards Clearwater Bay and Shoal Lake. Both are still pretty white, so I don’t think the ice will be gone from there for the weekend.

To the left of Shoal Lake, on Lake of the Woods, it’s very dark south of Big Narrows.

Let’s take a look at the satellite photographs. I’ve been keeping an eye on them, and although the weather has been quite fair, high clouds have obscured a lot of the area from the Aqua and Terra satellites, leaving this shot from April 19th as the best recent picture for several days. The satellite pics are not zoomable.


Lake of the Woods, April 19, 2016.

Shoal Lake is the patch of white near the upper left corner, Big Traverse is the huge white thing at the lower left, and the large greenish-brown area just right of center is the Alneau Peninsula. Kenora might be that tiny beige patch at the top edge.

After a week of cloud cover, Aqua got a clear shot yesterday.


Lake of the Woods, April 26, 2016

Look at the difference: Big Traverse is almost clear. There’s lots of open water south of Big Narrows, but the areas near the top of the picture are the parts lake dwellers care about most. Still lots of ice near town, so back to today’s aerial photos, with a look southeast from high above the Keewatin Bridge.


Rat Portage Bay, Keewatin Channel

Dead center in the frame is Shragges Island, and you can see wide open water stretching out past Town Island to Scotty Island. In the distance, also in the middle of the shot, it looks as if Andrew Bay is letting go. Bigstone Bay, in the distance at the left, is still ice, but turning darker. At the right side, The Manitou still looks pretty solid. Don’t forget to zoom in for a better look.

Lastly, a look at Safety Bay as we turned to line up on the runway.


Norman, Coney Island

Norman is in the foreground, downtown Kenora is at the left edge of this picture, Coney Island sprawls across the middle of the photograph. Gun Club Island is still enveloped in ice, but it looks pretty rotten.

The outlook is for near normal temperatures through the last weekend of April, but there’s talk of warmer temperatures next week. One forecast I’ve seen (Foreca’s) is calling for 19ºC on Monday. By then we should be hitting the tipping point, as the local ice cover diminishes towards 50%. When that happens, the action of wind and water will rapidly smash the remaining ice.

Some docks and marinas in and around town are clear now. Two Bears should be ice-free in a few days. Northern Harbour is more sheltered in Pine Portage Bay, and might hold onto some ice into next week, depending on temperatures and wind over the next several days.

It won’t be long now.


April 23, 2015: Satellite Update

A lot of ice came off the lake in the last week. Here are two recent satellite pictures that show how much.


Lake of the Woods on April 17th, 2015

Six days later…


Lake of the Woods on April 23rd, 2015

Huge areas at the south end of the lake are open now, extending all the way from Big Traverse to Big Narrows. These parts of the lake are too far from the Kenora airport for me to visit often, so satellite coverage is very helpful.

You can see pictures from earlier this spring, including one with some features labeled to help you get oriented, here.

If you’d like to roam around the MODIS site for yourself, I recommend my Daily Satellite Photograph link at the right side of this web page, under the heading Lake of the Woods Links. It takes you to the North America 3 picture at the highest resolution, and I update it whenever a good sunny day reveals the whole lake. Or click here. Once you arrive at their site, you can pull down a list of recent dates to view those photographs. Lake of the Woods is at the top left corner of a huge montage covering Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. There are also buttons to choose either the Terra or Aqua satellite, so there are actually two pictures for each day, taken at different times. Sometimes one will have less cloud cover than the other.

I have to go to work now. I should have fresh aerial photographs later today.

April 15, 2015: Satellite Comparison

I’m not flying today, but I’ll be up tomorrow, and I should be able to post new pictures then. In the meantime, here’s how April progressed as seen by the MODIS satellites. This first shot is from April 6th.


Lake of the Woods, April 6th, 2015.

Solid white ice covered the lake. There was a little open water, but it was too small to see easily. Now here’s yesterday’s shot.


Lake of the Woods, April 15th.

Much darker ice all over the lake, with open water visible at the mouth of the Rainy River at the south end, around the North West Angle near the center of the picture and on the Winnipeg River at the top. Here’s a labeled version of the same picture, to help you get oriented.


Lake of the Woods, April 15, labeled version.

Lastly, here’s a link to my first post of 2015, which has a satellite picture from March 2nd. Big changes since then! The forecast is for another sunny day tomorrow, so I hope to have some fresh pictures to take you into the weekend.