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 8, 2018: More Good News!

I got pictures from two more co-workers. Tom Hutton and James Biesenthal were flying together, and they both took pictures.

First, the ones from Tom Hutton.

The classic Keewatin waterfront shot to get us started. No more ice in Safety Bay.

Here’s a closer look at Crowe Island, Anglican Island and Channel Island. They’re all clear, but there’s ice out past Thompson Island.

This third picture shows Gun Club Island in the left foreground, then Treaty Island and Roger’s look joined together by the low angle. That’s Town Island in the middle distance, left of center. Beyond it, by Nantons Island, there’s still ice.

Now some pictures from James Biesenthal. There’s some overlap with Tom’s pictures, but I’ve selected a few that offer a different view.

This is the Winnipeg River, looking south with Locke Bay spanning the frame in the background.

Further south, James photographed the west channel of the river, with Keewatin in the distance.

Then Darlington Bay with Keewatin in the center of the picture.

Then from over the Keewatin bridge, this shot of the cluster of islands that include Mackie’s, Cameron, Cross, Kalamalka, Gourlay and Yacht Club islands. Further right, Turnbull Island and Rheault Bay. You’d have to zoom in to see the distant ice on the Manitou.

The last shot is of Treaty Island, with Shragge’s to the right of center and Channel Island at the wingtip. More to the left are Rogers, Galt, and Town Islands. There’s still enough ice to block passage to Scotty Island, but it won’t last long.

Monday’s high was 28.3°C, but Tuesday was quite a bit cooler, reaching just 13°C. By Wednesday night, the Weather Network forecast says we’ll be dipping down to 1°C, and rising to just 9°C on Thursday. I don’t think it will matter much: for Lake Dwellers near Kenora, the lake will be navigable.

Although cool, Thursday should also be sunny, so the satellite photographs will show if there’s any ice remaining by then. Some ice may persist on the south part of the lake for a few days longer. Shoal Lake is going fast, so it might go at the same time Lake of the Woods this year.

In case you missed seeing the reports in the comments section, Clearwater Bay is open, West Hawk Lake is open, and down by Sioux Narrows,  Long Bay is open.

April 30, 2018: The Heat Goes On.

We continue to exceed our forecast highs. We made it to twenty degrees yesterday, and it’s warmer than that today, so I was excited to get into the air for a look.

On departure from the Kenora airport, we flew west to get a look at the downtown area.

It’s hazy, but if you click on the image and zoom in, you can see that there’s been progress. Ice is vanishing from the north bays of Coney Island and the flow through Devil’s Gap is pushing further into Rat Portage Bay and closing in on Gun Club Island.

Because this was a training flight, we could fly straight west for a while, so we went to check out Clearwater Bay.

As we approached Rheault Bay, we could see most of Ptarmigan Bay and Clearwater.

We carried on for a look at the west end, where the satellite images have been showing very thin ice. It looks a bit more substantial close up, but there are lots of holes.

Next, we worked our way down to Big Narrows.

The picture above looks south east across the narrows at right angles. It’s very hazy, so the details are blurred, but if you zoom in you’ll see most of the narrows is open.

I tried to get better light by turning north east to photograph the downstream end of Big Narrows.

We worked our way up to the Barrier Islands to see how things looked there.

Still travelling north east, we’re looking over Oliver Island at the Devil’s Elbow. Lots of open water there now. That red blotch is a bug strike on the windshield. Think of it as a sign of spring.

Lastly, back towards town.

This is the view of Keewatin Channel from the south, but I took the picture from further away this time to show all the new water out by Town Island at the right side of the frame, around Thompson Island at the left, and around Anchor Island and its neighbours closer to the wingtip.

Summary: there’s still lots of ice, but holes are opening up everywhere there’s current.

What does all this warm weather do to the timeline on our thaw? Good question. As recently as last week, we were having a mix of days that were either warmer or cooler than normal, so I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that we were thawing fast. Now we’ve had a string of three days in a row that reached well above normal temperatures. That should make a noticeable difference, but will it knock three days off the thaw? The forecast for the next while is less rosy, so I’m waiting to see what actually happens.

Which is what I told myself last week, when this current warm spell was forecast to be less dramatic and shorter lived. I hope to hear from Sean tomorrow, and I’ll be interested to see how this looks on his graph, because that will give perspective on how much difference these recent warm days should make.

A late addition to this post: Tim Seitler took some pictures of the south end of Lake of the Woods from an airliner descending into Winnipeg from 40,000 feet. These show the Buffalo Bay and Buffalo Point areas.

I like how the top picture shows the clear sky above the haze layer.

Still lots of ice down there. Tim sent high-res photo files, so you can click on them to zoom in, just like mine. Thanks, Tim.


April 17, 2018: Warm & Windy

We had sunny weather today, with a high of 7°C this afternoon. Better yet, it was breezy, with winds of up to 20km/hr from the north east.

It wouldn’t be realistic to expect one nicer day to make a big difference, and most of the photographs I took today look just like the ones I took yesterday, so I’ll only put this one up.

This is looking south over Devil’s Gap with Treaty Island stretching from near the center to the right edge. Beyond that, lots of ice out by Rogers Island, Town Island and so on. Zoom in, and you can see the ice roads still look pretty solid. Rat Portage Marina is visible at the lower left, (partly obscured by the digitally distorted propeller blade) and there’s still ice all around the docks.

However, to my eye, the ice looks distinctly more gray today. It’s not glaringly obvious in the photographs, but with the picture above you can zoom in on the lower right corner to check out the ice surface around Gun Club Island, and you might agree that it looks patchier.

Terra Satellite got a clear image today, so I have updated the satellite link. Usually the first patch of open water on Lake of the Woods big enough to “see from space” is down by Baudette, Minnesota, where the Rainy River spills into the lake and creates a dark patch on the south shore. That hasn’t happened yet.

The temperatures tomorrow are forecast to dip slightly, which will likely put Wednesday’s mean daily temperature right at the freezing point, but from Thursday on, we should be consistently trending warmer through to the end of April. Not fabulously warm, or even normal, but almost always above freezing, even at night.

That should mean we’re switching from making ice to melting ice. Finally.


April 9, 2018: So Much Ice

I didn’t have the opportunity to head very far out over the lake today, but I didn’t need to.

Ice. Ice everywhere.

This first picture gives an overview.

Looking west: Longbow Lake dominates the foreground of this picture, with Pine Portage Bay and Sultana Island behind it.  Blindfold Lake is at the left edge. Zoom in to look closely at Bigstone Bay, and you’ll realize those gray patches are not slush, they’re just cloud shadows.

Let’s move a little closer to town.

Nanton’s Island and Lunny’s Island are the pair at the bottom left edge, then Town Island above and to the right of them. Keewatin Channel is in the center of this photograph, and the open water there still doesn’t connect to Safety Bay. In an average year, it would.

Zoom in, and you can see there’s a lot of new ice on Safety Bay. I am dismayed at how much has refrozen, and at how thick that fresh ice looks. It’s not just a thin skin.

After I turned back to the airport, I got a better look at Longbow. Like all the local lakes, it’s frozen from shore to shore.

Overall, there’s been no progress now for about three weeks. In fact, April has been so cold that we’ve made new ice where the water was open in March, so we’re actually moving backwards.

Worse, the forecast for the rest of April is for below-normal temperatures. We will see afternoon highs above freezing, but a normal high this time of year is more like 9°C, and there’s not one day forecast to hit that mark in the next two weeks.

While some ice will melt in the next while, we’ll have to catch up on thawing the new ice before we start making progress on the old stuff. And I’m still hearing reports from ice fishers that they’re bottoming out their augers on strong winter ice.

How bad could it be? My photographic records go back to 2003, and 2014 was the worst year I have in my archives. That year, the last ice on Lake of the Woods didn’t go until May 21. It was a spring so bad I didn’t start posting pictures until mid-April.

By the end of this week, we should be able to make direct comparisons to photographs from April 13, 2014. Here’s the ugly part. I’ve been looking at those pictures. We need to make some progress this week to match them.


March 29, 2018: It’s Turned Cold

We took a very quick turn over the lake this afternoon. There’s good news and bad news. We’d better start with the good news. Wednesday morning, we had rain, and it took a toll on the snow covering the lake ice.

This is Pine Portage Bay, home of Northern Harbour.

This view is to the north. That weird greenish shape like a giant blade of grass is just a digital distortion of one of the propeller blades. If you look closely—or better yet, click and zoom in—you can see lots of little gray patches where the snow cover is very scant.

Next, a shot of Bald Indian Bay. The clouds were pretty today, so I included a bit more sky than usual.

Looking north west, with downtown Kenora in the distance, just right of center. More evidence of thinning snow cover, but the ice roads look pretty sturdy.

A peek at the Town Island area before we turn back to the airport.

Town Island is to the lower left, Shragge’s Island is closest to the center, and the open water in Keewatin Channel and Back Channel has made little or no progress. That brings us to the bad news.

The temperature plummeted Wednesday, and will remain below freezing for Easter weekend and all of next week. Tonight’s low is forecast to hit -20°C! Ten or more consecutive freezing days is going to comprise a serious setback. Already, the open water near between Coney Island and the Clarion is skinning over with fresh ice.

Until now, we’ve been seeing an amount of open water comparable to a typical year, which is to say, one that sees LotW completely ice free in the first five days of May. But I’ve been making allowances for that ice being stronger and thicker than usual, and thinking the thaw might not keep up a normal pace. If we now suffer a setback of over a week, that could push things back to more like mid-May.

I won’t be flying over the Easter holiday weekend, but I will be out on the lake on Monday, checking the ice thickness and quality with my ice-fishing friends from work.

Ominous footnote: two weeks ago, we were concerned that the landings of the ice roads might disintegrate to slush and surface water if the weather stayed mild, making an April 2nd excursion onto the lake tricky or even hazardous. I’m sorry to say this, but we needn’t have worried.

April 21, 2017: Ashley Kolisnik

Scroll to the bottom  of today’s post for a Friday afternoon update.

Ashley took these pictures and sent them to me yesterday, but for technical reasons, I didn’t receive them until today.

The best part is, I just had a comment from someone who was curious about Lunny’s Island and Bare Point. This drew my attention to the fact that I had flown all around both places without taking a clear shot of either. But Ashley did.

Scotty Island, the Manitou.

This is a close-up of Scotty Island, looking south west down the Manitou toward Whiskey Island.

Town Island

The second picture is shows the Manitou from a bit further east, with Town Island in the right foreground, and Scotty Island and Nanton’s Island under the propeller blade. Bell’s Island and part of Lunny Island are just above the aircraft’s nose.

Bare Point Marina, Bigstone Bay.

Bare Point itself is just off the right edge, but this is a great shot of the Marina, looking out over Bigsby and Queen Bee Islands and south east along Bigstone Bay.

Thanks, Ashley.

One other cool thing: Bill Whicher contacted me to show how the False Color images from the MODIS satellites make it really easy to distinguish the ice on Lake of the Woods. Heavy ice is a lovely turquoise colour. Thin or rotten ice doesn’t show up as well. For that, you want the True Color image. Both links are to images from April 19th, when skies were clear.  It looks as if the lake is down to about 10% strong white ice cover, with weak dark ice probably amounting to a further 10-15%.


Thanks, Bill.

4:00PM Update: Today’s satellite pictures just came out. They show ice nearly all gone.

True Color April 21      False Color April 21