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.

May 2, 2018: Scenic Tour

We had a training flight today that covered a fair bit of the lake.

I’ll lead off with another look at Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay.

The ice is letting go on Laurenson’s Lake, just right of center in this picture, and further away, the ice on Rat Portage Bay looks weaker, too.

Our second picture looks south east from Bare Point. Lunney’s Island is toward the left, and beyond it is Scotty Island. At the right side of the frame is Town Island.

If you zoom in, you’ll see little patches of water all over the place, but you can’t help but notice there’s a lot of ice out there still.

We went further in this direction, so our third picture is The Manitou.

That’s the western tip of Scotty Island at the lower left corner, and Whiskey Island is the isolated island in the white expanse that is the Manitou. Not so many holes out here; this part of the lake melts late.

Next we swung around to look at the Devil’s Elbow, the biggest patch of water near the Barrier Islands. Mather Island is at the right, Allie Island is near the middle of the picture.

Further south east, it’s all ice from Oliver Island, past Ferrier Island and pretty much all the way to Yellow Girl Bay.

We flew to Sioux Narrows.

This is taken from over Long Point Island, looking at Regina Bay. Mostly ice here.

For our next training exercise, we needed blue sky, so we turned west and headed for this gigantic “sucker hole” in the clouds.

That took us down the western end of Long Bay, so here’s a look at Whitefish Narrows. There are some promising patches of water there.

We climbed up higher, and caught this view as we turned north to stay in our patch of blue sky.

The distinctive island in the foreground is Cintiss Island, with Crescent Island behind it.  Beyond that, the span of the Barrier Islands, stretching from Crow Rock Island at the left to East Allie Island at the right.

There is open water at each narrows, but there’s also a lot of ice on the lake.

From our higher vantage point, we could clearly see Shoal Lake to our west.

The little lakes on the Western Peninsula are opening up, but Shoal Lake is deep and shows only tentative signs of opening up along the shores of Carl Bay, near the middle of this picture.

I thought you might like to see some real water, so here’s Big Narrows.

You’re looking east, with Ferris Island at the lower right. There’s open water all the way to Oak Bay, just above the middle of the picture, but Wiley Bay, to the left of it, is all ice.

Here’s a closer look at Wiley.

From here, the only water we see is on the shallow lakes of the Western Peninsula and along its shorelines.

On the home stretch back to Kenora and the airport, we caught this view of Poplar Bay. It’s mostly frozen; the dark patches are cloud shadows. The Tangle is open though.

Chasing patches of blue sky and steering away from aircraft inbound to Kenora set us roaming around today. I don’t often cover so much territory that I need to dig out four or five different marine charts, so I hope you enjoyed the tour.

If you’re in Kenora, it’s easy to form the impression that everything is melting fast, but there’s seventy-odd miles of lake you can’t see from town, and it’s mostly ice. It isn’t all going to melt this weekend.

We are making good progress, so our very late thaw can be upgraded to rather late.

April 28, 2018: Flashback

The late spring we’re having this year invites comparison to 2014, a notorious year that saw lake ice hanging around until May 21.

So let’s take a look back.


This is a picture I took of Keewatin Channel on April 29 of 2014.


And here’s one of the same area from from April 26, 2018. The extent of the ice is roughly comparable, but the colour of the ice is completely different.

That matters. Here’s a comment from Stu Everett, who looked into how snow cover and sunshine affect break-up.

I came across a research paper from the 1960’s on freeze up and thaw of lakes that had an interesting observation. The study concluded that freeze up has a lot to do with processes such as sensible and latent heat transfer. On the other hand, break up was impacted more by radiation and wind. The study observed that once the ice was snow free, a sort of green house effect occurred, and the ice began to melt not only from the top but also from the bottom. In short, the ice becoming snow free has a major impact on melting.
So I went to the Environment Canada historical weather site and took a look at the last day there was snow on the ground at the airport by year, as a proxy for when LOW was snow free. I then calculated the average length of time from last snow on the ground to ice out on LOW. The average length of time was 27 days. To cut to the chase, last snow on the ground at the airport was April 17th this year. If it works out to be an average year then, the ice should be out on May 13th.
One other observation I would make is that the length of time from last snow to ice out varied from 19 days (2013) to 36 days (2012). This is a tighter spread than the analysis using inflection date, but there is not a huge difference. And the averages work out to 27 versus 32 days. So the May 15th date +/- a few days is probably a good guess, as you previously indicated. Finally, as the study I cited earlier noted, a major wind storm once the ice is weakened could “blow out” the lake somewhat earlier
I added the emphasis to the radiation and wind part, because I think that’s key. Sunshine makes a difference. Judging from my pictures, late April of 2014 was cloudy with snow flurries.
If you’re curious about how ice melts from the bottom, here’s a comment on that topic from a day or so earlier. Brian wrote:
Fun fact – the maximum density of fresh water is about 4°C.
In winter the ice is (obviously) at or below zero, and floats. There’s also a relatively thin layer of water between zero and 4°C under the ice which, being a bit less dense than the 4°C water below, also floats.
I suspect in spring, sun and meltwater above 4°C can displace/warm the cold layer so instead of a cold boundary layer, a less dense warm boundary layer can replace it (as now warmed to 4°C, the old cold boundary water falls to join the denser bottom water), which hastens ice bottom candling.
I was hoping to find a pair of clear satellite shots from the same late April date of 2014 and 2018, but clouds spoiled things. The best I could do was a sharp image from April 29, 2018  and a blurry one from April 26 this year. (Coincidentally, the same dates as my pictures above.)
A quick refresher: thick ice is turquoise, weak ice is darker, open water is black.



I thought this year would look better than 2014. It doesn’t look it, at least not on the blurry side. But on the sharp side of the picture, pay close attention to the Whitefish Bay/Sioux Narrows area at the right edge of this image. I think we’re doing better there, and I trust that sharp imagery more. Also, keep that three-day difference in the dates in mind: by the 29th, we may see a much darker lake.

On the whole, I think we’re starting to pull ahead of 2014, and we’ve got a couple of really warm days coming to give us a further boost. Sunday and Monday are forecast to hit 18°C. After that we’ll see a brief dip to below-normal temperatures to ring in May before things bounce back to near-normal for a while.
Signs of spring: Most of our marinas are still iced in, but Caroline texted me Friday morning to say there was a boat at the Clarion’s docks. Later that afternoon I saw a pair of jet-skis frolicking in Kenora Bay, and another boat on a trailer heading for somewhere to launch.  Oh, and I spotted a pelican the other day.

May 2, 2016: …going…

I was able to catch a pretty shot of Northern Harbour on this morning’s departure from Kenora.

Click on the pictures to see a larger version that can be zoomed to 100%.


Pine Portage Bay, Sultana Island, Bald Indian Bay

Northern Harbour is at the very left edge of this shot, while Bald Indian Bay is on the right. All that ice in the middle distance is Bigstone Bay, and in the far distance at the right is ice on the big water south of the Eastern Peninsula.

On our return this evening, we swung over for a better look at that. This is well south of Kenora, closer to Sioux Narrows.


Shore Island

Shore Island is just below the center of this picture that looks west.  Beyond it is the largest pan of ice remaining on Lake of the Woods. Chisholm Island and Cliff Island are at the left edge, and way off in the distance is Shoal Lake. We couldn’t see any ice around Sioux Narrows, by the way: Long Bay and Regina Bay were entirely clear.

Next shot, closer to Kenora.


Hay Island, the Manitou

Hay Island is at the right, with Scotty Island above the center. That’s Whisky Island pointing like an arrowhead to where the sun is glinting on the waters of the Manitou. There are still a few loose pans of ice out that way, but the patch on Bigstone Bay at the right is much more substantial. Zoom in on this picture, and you should be able to make out some boats. Hint: look for the wakes.

Back to check on Northern Harbour and the ice on Bigstone Bay.


Hades Islands, Bigstone Bay

Middle Island and Hay Island are out of sight under the plane in this shot that looks north east over the Hades Islands at Bald Indian Bay, Sultana Island and Pine Portage Bay. Think of this picture as the opposite of the morning shot. This is the second largest pan of ice left on Lake of the Woods.

Lastly, Matthew Render sent me this shot of Shoal Lake. He’s been a contributor since Ice Patrol went online in 2014, and he’s a real help because he regularly flies right over Shoal Lake, which I can seldom do. This week he’s not in the neighbourhood, but he got a friend to take a picture and forwarded it to me.


Shoal Lake: Dominique Island & Stevens Island

This picture looks north, and it’s clear that most of the ice is in the southern portion of Shoal Lake.  Above the large pan of ice at the middle right is Cliff Island, and north of that, it looks like the lake is clear. Above Indian Bay, at the left, you can see Falcon Lake and West Hawk . I believe they are clear now.

I think Clearwater Bay is wide open. It certainly looked like it, but I was too far away to be absolutely sure.

Regional temperatures rose to 19ºC this afternoon, and it was breezy, too, so a lot of ice melted. East of Kenora, Eagle Lake at Vermillion Bay was almost clear this evening, and Wabigoon Lake at Dryden is about the same or better. Sioux Lookout is going fast; there was a floatplane on the water there this evening, and further north, Red Lake’s ice is very weak. Near Kenora, all the small lakes are clear, with the sole exception of Silver Lake, a deep lake that always thaws late.

For most people, Lake of the Woods is open. My eyes at the Clarion Lakeside Inn tell me the floating bridge to Coney Island came out today, to open up the waterways to boat traffic. The remaining ice will be gone this week, probably by Wednesday. That would be a day later than last year. It would also be Star Wars Day: May the Fourth be with you.

May 3, 2015: That’s It!

Tom Hutton is not only one of my professional pilot colleagues at Walsten Air, he’s also a member of the Kenora Flying Club. Today he took me out for an hour in the club’s Cessna 172, and we could not find any significant ice.

If you hurry to Heenan Point, you might be able to pick up enough to fill a picnic cooler, but it was going fast, and by this evening there won’t be enough left to make a decent martini.


Quarry Island, Sultana Island, Pine Portage Bay and Heenan Point

If you click on this picture to see it full size, you can make out a tiny patch of ice clinging to the tip of Heenan Point. By the time you read this, it will probably be gone.

We flew as far south as Sioux Narrows.


Sioux Narrows

No ice.

We flew as far west as Allie Island and had a look at the area south of the Barrier Islands where Andrew found ice yesterday.


Ferrier Island, looking north at the Barrier Islands

Those patches in front of the wing strut are just ripples on the otherwise glassy water. No ice.

We checked around Scotty and Middle Islands, where a few pans were floating yesterday.


Bald Island and Queer Island in the middle distance. Scotty Island, Middle Island the Hades and Hay Island further back.

No ice.

I’m calling it. Lake of the Woods is ice-free as of May 3rd, 2015.

It looked as if there was still ice on Shoal Lake, but by the time the daily satellite picture was taken, none was visible. If Matthew or anyone sends me another photo before it is gone, I will insert it here.

Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol will now go dormant until next spring.

Thanks to everyone who helped by visiting, commenting or sharing with friends. We ran the hit counter up from 70,000 to 130,000 this spring, and peaked at over 2700 hits on a single day (April 28th). Anxiety last year about ice persisting into fishing season and even the May long weekend drove hits to 3700 one day, but I knew we’d never match that during a normal spring like this one.

Special thanks to all the pilots who donated their time and flying expenses to help me provide better coverage. In approximate order of first appearance: Andrew Kozlowski, Matthew Render, Al Nelson, Rob Reboks, Dave Thiele (and his daughter Alice and son Eric on camera duty) and Lindsay Kitson.

Much of what you see here was made possible by the other folks at Walsten Air: the bosses who allowed me leeway in my flight path, the dispatcher who assigned me flights returning to Kenora without passengers, the maintenance department that alerted me to non-revenue flights, and our pilots. I think every single one of our pilots chipped in this year by flying while I took pictures or taking pictures for me on days when I could not. We have a great crew.

As a former float-plane pilot, I’d like to sign off with a safety reminder. Kenora has a busy water aerodrome on Safety Bay. During take-off and landing, aircraft have the right of way over boats. Please watch out for them and try to keep clear during these critical phases of flight. After the plane has landed and dropped “off the step” to taxi slowly, the plane has the same rights as any other boat. However, they have no brakes and do not steer all that well. It would be nice (and safest) if you would treat them like sailboats and keep a wide berth. Thanks.

I’ve been neglecting my other hobby for two months while I did this blog. If you want to see how my efforts as a science fiction author are panning out, you are welcome to visit Timothy Gwyn* Writes, (*my pen name) a blog where I comment on books I have read, conventions I am going to, and the occasional publishing success. Otherwise, I’ll be back here around the middle of March 2016.

Have a great summer on Lake of the Woods!

Tim Armstrong

April 30, 2015: Sioux Narrows to Kenora

Warm weather is doing a number on the ice. As I write this, it’s 18ºC in Kenora, and forecast to hit 19ºC Friday and 22ºC on Saturday.

On the way out of Kenora this morning I snapped a few quick pictures. Here are three. Click on them to see a larger, more detailed version.


Bald Indian Bay, Bare Point, Matheson Bay

Bald Indian Bay on the left, Bare Point right off the nose, Matheson Bay on the right. This picture really shows how much ice is still out there south of Bare Point. In the background you can see that Scotty Island is still about half enclosed in ice. Ice in the Manitou is looking really soft.


Matheson Bay, Town Island

This is a closer view of Matheson Bay. Town Island is not entirely clear.


Northern Harbour, Longbow Lake

I had to take a look at Northern Harbour, just to see for myself how much it changed in just two days. Wow.

On the return to Kenora in the afternoon, I angled slightly south so I could get a look at Sioux Narrows before turning towards the airport.


East end of Long Bay, Regina Bay

Ignore the black streaks- my smartphone takes a very strange view of the rapidly moving propeller. Long Bay and Regina Bay are open.


Long Point Island

This is as close as I got to Sioux Narrows. One patch of white ice survives quite close to the narrows- it might be visible from the famous bridge.

Time to swing north for Kenora.


Witch Bay and Andrew Bay

Witch Bay and Andrew Bay are open. Notice that there are three huge patches of ice to the north. The one on the left is south of the Barrier Islands, the one in the middle is the Manitou, and the one on the right is Bigstone Bay. All three can be seen on today’s Satellite picture, where they look like one big patch of variable grey.


Andrew Bay and Pipestone Point

Lots of open water south of Hay Island. Moore Bay has been open for a week or more. The trick is getting to it.


Moore Bay, Hay Island and Bigstone Bay

From Kenora, the lake is still pretty much impassable south of Scotty Island. For now. Things are changing fast.


Pine Portage Bay, Bald Indian Bay

This is the follow-up to the morning shot of Northern Harbour. Yes, you can get Gary to put your boat in the water. But it will be a day or two before you can go anywhere.

It’s going to be warm for several days. More ice will give way on Friday, and there will be further change over the weekend. I still think we’ll be into next week before the lake is 100% open.

April 14, 2015: Sioux Narrows

I received some photographs from another contributing pilot/photographer on Tuesday evening. Roberts Reboks took these pictures of Sioux Narrows and sent them to Andrew Kozlowski, who passed them on to me.


Sioux Narrows bridge, Regina Bay.

The upper photograph is centered on Sioux Narrows, looking east over the bridge at Regina Bay. Quite a few patches of open water are visible, including some small lakes. Overall, the ice looks very weak.


Long Bay, Lobstick Bay.

The second picture is just north of Sioux Narrows, looking east down Long Bay toward Lobstick Bay and Dogpaw Lake. At the right edge, I believe that’s Whitefish Narrows showing all the open water. Thanks, Rob!

CALLING ALL PILOTS: there will be steady change during the next two or three weeks! Contact me at if you plan to take pictures. I need coverage of Lake of the Woods, Shoal Lake and the south Whiteshell.