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 20, 2018: Normal Temperatures

Patchy cloud shadows when I landed Friday evening make it a little hard to judge things on this picture. Click on it to see a larger version that makes things clearer.

Rat Portage Bay is in the middle of the photo and downtown Kenora is in the lower right corner. At first glance, it looks as if all the new April ice might be gone, but a closer look shows that nearly half of it survived an afternoon high of 12°C. There are still patches of recently refrozen surface near the Keewatin bridge, in Kenora Bay, and near the Clarion Inn.

But we can take heart in two things: the snow cover is disappearing, and the weekend should be warm. Our forecast for Saturday and Sunday is for temperatures to reach 12 or 13 degrees, which is normal for this time of year. That should finish melting the recently reformed ice and take a heavy toll on the snow cover. It will be mainly sunny, too, so we might finally see some sunshine reach the winter ice. When I go flying again on Tuesday, I hope to see some advances.

The long-term outlook is still not rosy: it looks as if the end of April will still have some overnight lows dipping down to a few degrees below freezing, and the first days of May are forecast to be cooler than normal, too. So although we will make progress, it may not be rapid.

 

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.

 

March 22, 2018: First Shades of Grey

Just a quick update today. James and I had the opportunity to swing out over the lake before lining up with the runway at Kenora’s airport. I’ll begin with an overall perspective.

This photograph is centered on Middle Island, looking north towards town in the distance, so those are the Hades islands in the foreground, and the northern tip of Hay  Island at the very bottom of the picture. Scotty Island is above and left of center. As you can see, it’s all frozen, and still has good snow cover.

Next, the latest on Keewatin Channel.

The open water has reached Shragge’s Island. If you click to zoom in, you can also see that water is reaching out from Keewatin to the western tip of Yacht Club Island.

That’s only one of the reasons I included this photograph. It’s subtle, but the snow-cover is losing its pure white colour and developing faint patches of pale gray. I’m not talking about the big cloud shadows. You have to zoom in to see them, but there are tiny patches of scruffier snow, the first signs that the cover layer is starting to yield.

Last, as we turn towards the airport, a quick look at Devil’s Gap.

Looking east along part of Treaty Island, with a little bit of Gun Club Island at the lower left, we can see that water is beginning to spread from Devil’s Gap towards Rat Portage Bay and Gun Club Island, but the ice roads there still look strong. So do the roads around Roger Island, right of center. Note: Gun Club and Rogers are both late melters. The ice roads run near them for a reason.

Loosely speaking, places closer to town with strong currents go first. Examples: Safety Bay, Keewatin Channel and Scotty Island. Places further out, especially those with weak currents, go later. For instance: Bigstone Bay and the Manitou. Please keep that trend in mind when you’re wondering why I’m not photographing your area yet. I’m probably waiting for it to start showing signs.  A few distant places have current, and go early, but you can’t get there by boat until everything melts between them and your boat launch. Example: Big Narrows. Shoal Lake goes last, typically four or five days after the last ice on LotW.

There’s one other factor: it’s easier for me to fly near the Kenora airport because I’m always going there to land. I get fewer opportunities to range as far afield as Clearwater Bay or Sioux Narrows, but I do make an extra effort when things start to melt in those areas.

I just looked back at my pictures from this time last year and the year before. We’re nowhere near where we were on March 23, 2017, (an early year) and not as far along as March 21, 2016, (a typical year), either. But I think I’m prepared to start the six-week countdown now. That doesn’t mean I think we’ll be ice free in exactly six weeks, which works out to May 3rd. It might be possible, given favourable conditions, but I think somewhere between the 6th and the 10th of May would be easier to believe, given a typical range of weather. If you find that disheartening, bear in mind that that’s a guess at when Lake of the Woods might be completely ice free. If your camp is closer to town, you may not have to wait so long.

March 13, 2018: Let’s Take A Look

I had a training flight Tuesday that let me roam out over Lake of the Woods to get the lay of the ice.

Here’s the short version for those of you checking in from far away: the lake is 99% frozen. I’m not quite ready to start the six-week countdown yet.

Here’s a photograph that shows the overall condition of the lake. It also clearly shows why these are called the Barrier Islands. The plane is over the Manitou, heading south west, and the ice road cuts between Shammis Island on the left and Crow Rock Island on the right.

Remember, you can click on these pictures to see the full-resolution version, and the larger picture is also zoomable. Also, when you float the mouse over the pictures, you should see the pilot and photographer attribution.

While I was taking the picture above, I noticed some patches of open water down by Big Narrows, so Tom and I headed down to take a look.

This shot, with Big Narrows Island at the left and the Western Peninsula on the right, gives a clear example of how the ice goes first where the current is strongest.

Time to turn north east and head back towards Kenora.

We’re still near Big Narrows. This is the ice road that runs between Kennedy Island on the left and Skeet Island on the right. Kenora is way off near the horizon, left of center. Did  I mention there’s lots of ice?

Let’s go look for some water. That’s basically how Ice Patrol works, by the way. I observe the progress of the thaw by seeking out the expanding patches of open water.

Keewatin Channel always opens up early. This picture looks north with Keewatin in the background.  There’s a fair bit of water around Channel Island. Over the wingtip is Roger’s Island, and beyond that, Treaty Island. In the distance (don’t forget you can zoom in) you can see Coney Island and an open stretch of Safety Bay.

We’ll take a closer look at that.

Looking east down Rat Portage Bay gives a different angle, with Keewatin Channel now at the right, and Safety Bay on the left. Norman is on the left shore, and downtown Kenora is in the distance, left of center.

Of course, one more place where there’s guaranteed to be a current is the Winnipeg River.

This picture looks north at The Dalles, with Minaki and Big Sand Lake almost at the horizon.

I usually kick off the Ice Patrol when there’s a bit more open water in Safety Bay, so this flight was more about having the opportunity than really getting started in earnest. It’s certainly too early to make predictions, but I’ve noticed an increase in the number of Ice Patrol visitors lately, so I know some of you are getting anxious.

We had a strange winter, with multiple extreme cold warnings in late December, January and February. (For this region, warnings are issued when the wind-chill values work out to around -40°) I would have expected really thick ice, but we started the winter with some heavy snowfalls in early December that may have insulated the lake against the deepest cold. When the ice is really thick, my ice-fishing friends notice because their augers bottom out, but I haven’t been hearing that this year.

So far, March is much milder, so maybe we won’t have a late thaw. This is not a prediction. It’s a HOPE.

A couple of other notes. First, thanks to those of you who stopped by the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada to hear me talk about Alternative Aviation. It was fun to meet some of my blog followers.

Second, the company I work for has changed ownership. Formerly, we were known as Walsten Air, and were part of Discovery Air. Now we are part of MAG Aerospace, and we answer the phone as MAG Canada. We have new decals on the plane, but we’re the same great outfit.

I’ll have a number of training flights in the next while, but keep in mind that the initial stages of the spring thaw move slowly, so there’s no urgency to update every day or two just yet. Stay tuned, and if you’d like an email when Ice Patrol has new info, you can click the FOLLOW button. I do not share email addresses with anyone.

That’s it for now, except to say to all of you, welcome back!

 

April 20, 2017: Tipping Point

It’s been a whole week since I could upload pictures, so I’m very glad I could take some new ones today. A lot has changed.

We have reached the tipping point. In the early spring, I take pictures of patches of water surrounded by ice. When we reach the halfway point, my pictures start to be of the ice/water boundary areas.

Okay, let’s go.

Longbow Lake, Pine Portage Bay, Bigstone Bay.

This first shot looks south west. Longbow Lake is at the left, Pine Portage Bay is more to the right, and the big patch of ice is Bigstone Bay. Note that Longbow is completely open. In Pine Portage Bay, Northern Harbour has some water to work with, but you cannot yet sail out of the bay onto the rest of the lake.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version that’s zoomable to full resolution. That’s especially handy if you want to see something in the distance.

Next, we moved straight ahead to get closer to Hay Island.

Bigstone Bay, Hay Island.

Thunder Bay, home of Smith Camps, is at the left, with Long Point separating it from Pine Portage Bay, but Northern Harbour is just out of sight under the plane’s nose. There’s open water in those small bays, but as usual, ice in Bigstone Bay is holding out, making it tough to reach the area around Middle Island and Hay Island.

We went a little further to get a good look at Middle Island and Scotty Island.

Middle Island, Scotty Island.

The water’s wide open all the way to Scotty Island now, although a little pan ice is clinging to the north shore. Middle Island is mostly open, but it would be tricky to reach it from the east side. In the distance, you can see that Andrew Bay is open, but  there’s still lots of ice south of the Barrier Islands. Also notice that the Manitou is only open as far as Whiskey Island. Beyond that, the ice looks quite strong.

This next shot shifts the view to the right, looking more directly west.

Whiskey Island, Wolf Island, Thompson Island.

Town Island is just to the right of the aircraft’s nose in the picture above with just a little ice trapped around Galt Island. Roger’s Island and Treaty Island are open.

Let’s take a closer look at that area.

Treaty Island, Coney Island, Kenora.

We’ve climbed quite high now, so this shot shows the whole area from Galt Island at the lower left corner, past Treaty Island near the center, to downtown Kenora at the right. Devil’s Gap is clear, and the ice is all gone in  Rat Portage Bay, with Gun Club Island wide open.

Next, a different view of the Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake area.

Bald Indian Bay, Pine Portage Bay, Longbow Lake, Bigstone Bay.

This time we’re looking south east, so you can see all of Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake, and the far end of Bigstone Bay. The ice on Bigstone still looks pretty sturdy.

This last shot covers downtown again, but I’m including it because it looks west and offers a better view of Darlington Bay, and in the distance, Clearwater Bay and Shoal Lake.

Rat Portage Bay, Safety Bay, Darlington Bay, Winnipeg River.

We didn’t have time to fly further west, so Garrett snapped this shot from the pilot’s side while I took the controls for a moment. Darlington Bay is open. In the distance, Clearwater still has quite a bit of ice, and from the looks of it, Shoal Lake is still mostly frozen, at least the south part.

At the time I took these pictures, the pedestrian footbridge to Coney Island was still in place. You can just make it out behind the wing if you zoom in on this shot. But now that the ice is not an obstacle to boat traffic, the bridge will be coming out.

As we left town behind, we got rather too high to get good pictures, but we noticed that both Upper and Lower Black Sturgeon are open, while Silver Lake still has ice. Even further north, in my old float-plane stomping grounds, Maynard Lake and Oak Lake are about half open.

What does all this mean, in terms of how long until all the ice is gone on Lake of the Woods? With huge stretches of the lake open, the wind is able to really drive the ice and break it up.

I looked at some past years, and hunted for pictures with about the same amount of ice remaining. I would say we are now about ten days ahead of 2015 and 2016. That suggests that we have only a few days to go. Under ideal conditions, we could see the ice disappear this weekend. But. The weekend forecast is for single-digit highs, and overnight lows below freezing. Let’s just say within a week, and cross our fingers.