May 6, 2022: Fresh Aerials

Justin Martin, my former Chief Pilot, was flying again today and had time to snap a few quick shots.

So here’s the speed tour. You can click on these pictures to see them enlarged.

Looking west over Laurenson’s Lake.

Note that Laurenson’s Lake is still frozen. There is actually a little water at the east end, off the bottom of the picture.

Devil’s Gap and Treaty Island.

Ice is yielding at both the inlet (left) and outlet (right) sides of Devil’s gap now. Open water is spreading into Rat Portage Bay, although Gun Club Island, as usual, is staying iced in a bit longer.

The plane swung left a little to show the Manitou better.

Town Island and the Manitou.

Following Keewatin Channel out to the Manitou is one of the main ways to reach open water from Kenora, and it opens earlier than Devil’s Gap. I think next week Scotty Island will be reachable by boat.

Big Narrows and Wiley Point.

Open water continues to expand all around Big Narrows. Looks like Wiley Point is getting its toes wet now.

The Barrier Islands, seen from the south side.

Justin took several pictures of the Barrier Islands area around the Elbow. I like this one best because you can see how the water is reaching north towards Middle Island and (eventually) town. The big patch of water at the left is the Elbow, and if you zoom in you can see that things are improving at French Narrows on the right.

Now that the ice is turning grey, the pressure ridges really stand out.

Thanks Justin!

Another sunny day, another MODIS shot. I think Aqua got better light quality than Terra today.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, May 6, 2022, in false colour.

Open water continues to expand, and ice is softening all over the lake. It looks as if shorelines may be letting go, especially in the south half of the lake.

Signs of Spring:

On Kenora Bay, the ice is completely candled now. It will be gone very soon.

Motorcycles. I saw three today, and just heard another. Remember, riders need to avoid both potholes and patches of loose sand. Give them room in case they have to brake or evade.

Ticks. Found my first tick today, on my belly after walking Ebony. Yay.

Ebony gets refreshed after overheating.

No ticks on her, though, we checked. This is important because of Lyme Disease, which took the life of Piper, our previous dog. There’s a now a new option in tick preventative pills. Ask your vet.

May 4, 2022: Startling Change

I had a chance to go flying today. Quinn Wilson, one of my former colleagues, was able to take me for a flight in one of MAG Canada’s Rockwell Aero Commander 500s.

We went for a tour of the northern half of the lake. I took quite a lot of pictures, and here’s a selection of the most informative.

You can click on these photos to see a larger, zoomable version.

Rat Portage Bay and Safety Bay.

The usual shot taken shortly after take-off. At the left edge, Rat Portage Bay is showing an increased amount of open water; it approaches Gun Club Island now.

We flew west to check out Clearwater Bay.

Clearwater Bay and Deception Bay.

Most of Clearwater and Ptarmigan are still frozen over.

Deception Bay.

But there is some open water around the marina in Deception Bay.

Ash Rapids.

I wanted a closer look at Ash Rapids to see if there was more open water than yesterday. I think yes, a little.

Southwest end of Big Narrows.

Big Narrows is practically wide open now. Of course, the routes to it are still frozen.

Wiley Point.

From Big Narrows, the open water has spread as far as Wiley Point.

From there, we cruised over to look at the Barrier Islands.

Crow Rock Pass.

Spotted some open water at Crow Rock Pass, and there’s a tiny bit near Twelve Mile Portage, too.

The Elbow.

Developments around the Elbow look more dramatic. I’m sure there’s more open water here than in Justin’s pictures from just thirty hours earlier.

Queer Island and French Narrows.

And where we saw weakening ice yesterday, there are growing patches of open water around Queer Island.

Next, over to Bigstone Bay.

Eagle Pass.

There’s still just a very small patch of water at Eagle Pass.

Scotty Island, Nanton Island, Town Island.

I’m keeping a close eye on the waters approaching Scotty Island, as this is an area of dynamic change. I think there’s a visible difference since yesterday.

Lastly, a look at Devil’s gap from the Rogers Island side.

Rogers Island and Devil’s Gap.

Ice in this area always holds out longer than you’d expect. In fact, this very spot was the reason Ice Patrol started in the first place,  But there is noticeable change here, too, as the water opens up towards Galt Island.

I hope to go flying with Quinn again in a few days. Thanks, Quinn!

In summary, there was a surprising amount of change in one day. Patches of rotten ice opened up dramatically, and most areas with open water saw at least a little expansion.

The latest MODIS image bears that out.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Aqua satellite, May 4, 2022, in false colour.

Here’s the matching shot from yesterday.

MODIS image of Lake of the Woods from Terra satellite, May 3, 2022, in false colour.

Black patches of open water seem larger in today’s image. Although the lake is still about 95% ice-covered, whole swaths of that ice have turned darker, indicating that it is thinning or weakening.

The weather: tomorrow we might see above normal temperatures for the first time in weeks. The Weather Network says a high of 16°C, slightly above seasonal norms of around 15. Environment Canada thinks we might make it to 18°C. Friday’s supposed to be similar, but the weather will be a few degrees cooler on the weekend, and rain is expected to start on Saturday night and last a few days. I was recently reminded by retired meteorologist Louis Legal, that it’s not the actual rain that destroys ice. It’s the high humidity that comes with the rain, and the energy transferred when water vapour condenses onto snow or ice. So I expect rapid change for the next few days. We could be approaching a turning point.

The Lake of the Woods Control Board has announced that the Norman Dam will soon be going wide open. You can read the full announcement at the preceding link, but the gist of it is that there was record precipitation in April, so the lake has been rising fast and will continue to do so. The lake is already at 95th percentile levels, and it is predicted to reach the highest allowable levels by mid-May. Even at maximum flow, the dam cannot drain the lake as fast as it is filling up, so the dam will be opening all the way on May 7, in an attempt to get a head start.

Signs of spring: Loons are back. I thought I spotted some yesterday, but today I was able to confirm it with Derek, an experienced birder who has seen and heard them clearly. Oh, I guess that’s another sign of spring: the birders must be getting more active, because I met two today. On a more urban level, the street-sweepers are out. This also sparks joy, but in a less poetic way.

May 13, 2019: The Last Ice

Today I went looking to see if any ice remains on Lake of the Woods. I did find some, south of the Barrier Islands, but it’s just little patches of loose, candled ice.

The photo above is from around 10:00 this morning, and looks south over Allie Island towards the Alneau Peninsula. I’ve circled the area of interest so you’ll know where to zoom in for a better look. At full resolution, that’s clearly ice.

I thought a little patch of weak ice like that wouldn’t last long, so I was looking forward to checking on it on my return in the afternoon.

We came back at about 5:00 and after checking to see that Big Sand Lake, north of Minaki was open, (too far away to photograph, but it is open) I started with a picture of Shoal Lake.

As far as I can tell, Shoal Lake is wide open. Because it’s deep, It often clears about three days later than Lake of the Woods, but this year it cleared earlier.

Next shot, Big Narrows.

Looking south. Left of centre is Wiley Point, with Big Narrows above the middle of the picture. In the distance, is that ice on Little Traverse? It was so hazy I wasn’t sure, but there was ice there the other day.

Next, I checked on that ice south of Allie Island.

In the centre of the picture, you can see it’s falling apart, but it’s not gone.

There was a lot of discussion about Bigstone Bay over the weekend, so I wanted to get a bird’s eye view.

This picture is centred on Scotty Island, with Middle Island and Hay Island stretching away to the right. Bigstone Bay appears to be entirely clear.

Next, a closer look at Bare Point and Pine Portage Bay.

Bare Point Marina and Northern Harbour, on Pine Portage Bay, are key access points for Bigstone Bay and Hay Island. Both are wide open now. I counted about twenty boats in the water at Northern Harbour this afternoon. There might be more, but the bigger boats are easier to see.

So although a small amount of ice persists, the lake is essentially open for boating.

Let’s go to the satellite imagery, Bob.

Aqua‘s image was spoiled by cloud today, but Terra got a pretty good shot. The white circle encompasses Rabbit Lake, Round Lake and Laurenson’s Lake, which are good markers for picking out Kenora. The small red circle is the surviving ice south of Allie Island. The large red circle indicates the area of possible ice on Little Traverse, but the satellite image shows nothing except a streak of cloud.

Fun with Clouds, Part Two: at the top left, our friends the fair-weather cumulus. At the right, in blue, high altitude clouds made of ice crystals. In the lower part of the picture, clouds of vertical development: towering cumulus or nascent thunderclouds, with watery bases and icy tops. When clouds like this become full-grown thunderheads, the vertical movement of water droplets up and down through the freezing level forms hailstones.

Summary: only one tiny patch of weak ice remains on Lake of the Woods today, and it will be gone tomorrow.

That means we’ll be ice free on exactly the same date as last year, which kind of makes sense given how the winters were similar in both duration and coldness.

I say kind of, because although the winters had a lot in common, the springs were quite different. 2018 was a late, cold spring that turned really warm at the end of April. 2019 was a slow, cool spring with few warm days.

Here’s Sean’s updated graph of our temperature progress this spring.

Overall, you can see we had moderate thawing this year, with the blue dots showing that mean daily temperatures added up slowly, especially in late April. When Sean and I first modelled this year’s forecast, we chose a thaw index of 240, because that’s how much heat it took to melt last  year’s ice, and the two winters were similar. In the end, although the predicted date for ice-out came close, the actual amount of heat it took to do it was less than we thought, and this graph shows a revised forecast with the expected thaw index reduced to 190.

Basically, we assume that a long cold winter makes lots of ice, and it will take lots of warm days to melt it all. That’s simplifying, and we know it. The brutal winter of 2014 thawed with an index of 194, so 190 is not unreasonable. Perhaps last year’s 240 points was an oddity.

In any event, we didn’t need as many thaw days as we first thought. Sean offers these technical insights:

Sources of error are plenty in this high level statistical analysis. Wind, direct sunlight, rain, ice thickness, snow thickness etc are all variables that the analysis does not take into account.

Our ratio of freezing index to thawing index was right around 10 this year, which is the average for the last 15 years or so. Our initial prediction this year was conservative based off of last years data and went with 7.5 freezing index to thawing index ratio.

If we had ignored last year’s unusual thaw, we would have used a ratio of 10 and gone with an index of 200. That would have been close.

That’s basically it for this year. I’ll do a wrap up post when I can confirm that last patch of ice is gone, and I’ll update the different graphs that show how this spring compares to recent years.

Now that boats are hitting the water, it’s time for my annual reminder that the stretch of Safety Bay from Bush Island west to Norman is a licensed Water Aerodrome: an airport for float planes. Please watch out for them when boating in this area. Think of it as a runway. For safety reasons, float planes have the right of way when taking off or landing. When taxiing, they are supposed to be like any other watercraft, but from experience, I can tell you that they cannot decelerate quickly or turn sharply. Do be careful around them.

April 22, 2019: Change

Today I got a chance to see how the warm weekend affected the lake ice.

Lets start downtown, looking west at Rat Portage Bay.

Rat Portage Bay is in the middle of the picture, and at last the open water is pushing in from Devil’s Gap. Gun Club Island is still surrounded by ice, but it looks much blotchier than last week. Safety Bay, at the right, is almost entirely open now. There was still some candled ice when I drove along the waterfront earlier this morning, so I think things are changing rapidly there.

Click on any of these pictures to see a full-screen, zoomable version.

Aiming the camera a little to the left, I was able to include Town Island in the view.

Treaty Island has shifted from the left side of the picture to the right, so if you start with Rogers Island near the middle, you can work left to look at Galt Island and Town Island. Click to zoom in, and you can see that the water around Town Island is expanding towards Scotty Island, at the left by the windshield wiper arm.

Now, my first look at the Ptarmigan Bay area.

The Northern Peninsula dominates this picture, with White Partridge Bay in the foreground, near the dashboard. Follow that up the right side of the frame to look at Clearwater Bay. Ptarmigan Bay is on the left, with Fox Island just above the aircraft’s nose. I don’t see any water in this area yet, but the ice is darkening.

We turned left, to look eastward over the Manitou.

Whisky Island is at the bottom, left of center. Further back and close to the left edge is Scotty Island, with Middle Island and Hay Island behind it. Over on the right is The Elbow, with the open water between Mather Island and Allie Island spreading towards Queer Island.

Here’s the same area, but looking north east.

The Barrier Islands, with Shammis Island at the left, by the propeller blade, then Mathis Island, The Elbow, Allie Island and East Allie Island. In the back row, beyond Andrew Bay: Scotty Island, Middle Island, The Hades, and Hay Island.

Last, a check on Big Narrows. Looking south west.

Wiley Bay reaches to the right edge, and Wiley Point is close to the middle of the frame, with Big Narrows behind it. Zoom in to see Tranquil Channel and French Portage Narrows. Part of Queen Island is at the lower left corner.

Summary: four or five days of warm weather have enabled areas with current to open significantly. Places with less current, such as Ptarmigan, Clearwater and Bigstone, have seen less dramatic progress, but the ice is darkening all over.

We’re still doing better than last year, but this is the week when things started to warm up in 2018, bringing late but rapid change. Can we match that pace this year?

Multiple forecasts (The Weather Network, Accuweather, Environment Canada, and even the Weather Underground) all agree that we’ll have a few more days of warmth, and then, as we get to the weekend, it will cool off. Opinion is divided on how cool and how long it will last. Some overnight lows a little below freezing seem likely, while a stretch of single-digit daytime highs may last for a few days, or several.

If the more pessimistic forecasts turn out to be right, we could still come close to a thaw as late as last year. (Totally ice-free on May 14th). If we we don’t get too cool for too long, and benefit from some rain, we could continue to make good progress.

 

 

March 28, 2019: Four Quick Shots

I got called in to fly today, and had time to quickly take a few pictures at midday.

Shortly after take-off, I captured this view of downtown Kenora, looking west.

Devil’s Gap and Treaty Island are near the center of the picture and the Lakeside neighbourhood is to the right. At first glance, I thought the open water of Safety Bay had connected to the Keewatin Channel, but those darker areas around the Yacht Club are not open water, they’re just cloud shadows.

Click on the image to see it full screen, then click on that larger image to see it at higher resolution.

When we got a little further out, I snapped a shot of Keewatin Channel.

Town Island is at the left edge of the frame, Galt Island is at the wingtip, and beyond that, open water can be seen at Shragge’s Island near the center of the picture. Zoom in for the clearest view of what’s water and what’s shadow. There hasn’t been a great deal of change, but in the foreground of this photo, you can see a lot of rippled snow cover where the white snow drifts alternate with grey slush.

Down by the Barrier Islands, I thought I saw a significant patch of water near The Elbow.

But looking at the picture now, I’m not so sure. What I took to be water is near the center of the frame, between Allie Island and Shammis Island. If you zoom in, it does look a little bluer than the other shadows, but this photograph is inconclusive.

Lastly, because the satellite pictures indicated that water was opening up in Big Narrows, we went for a look.

This time it was obvious: we could see multiple areas of water from some distance away, including some in Tranquil Channel. This picture looks west over Wiley Point, with Shoal Lake in the distance.

Overall, not a lot more water showing, but the quality of the snow cover does look poorer, with lots of slushy areas emerging.

I should be flying again tomorrow, after dropping in on Ken at Q-104 in the morning.