Historically late ice-outs on some metro lakes

Lake Phalen on Saturday, April 20. The latest recorded ice-out date on the lake was April 21 until this year.

Long Lake remained mostly ice-covered last weekend.

A trio of ducks in open water near Lake Phalen’s shore.

Joshua Nielsen
Review staff

Last year was the earliest statewide ice-out for Minnesota lakes on record. On April 10, 2012 the last lake, Greenwood Lake in Cook County near the Ontario border, was declared ice-free. Most lakes around the Twin Cities were free of ice by mid March when the mercury spiked to a record 80 degrees on St. Patrick’s Day.

This year many anglers traveling to northern Minnesota lakes for the May 11 fishing opener may worry that they will have to pull out the ice auger to reach the abundant walleye, northern pike and sauger.

In contrast to last year at this time, many large lakes in northern Minnesota like Leech Lake, Lake of the Woods, Red Lake and even down to Lake Mille Lacs reported having over two feet of ice late last week.

But, a lot can change on Minnesota lakes over the course of two and a half weeks.

“Trying to predict ice-outs is like trying to predict the weather,” said Peter Boulay, a state climatologist.

He said unseasonably cold weather and heavy snow pack on lakes in early spring have delayed ice melt past seasonal averages on most lakes in the metro.

Boulay is a Maplewood resident who has kept annual ice-out records on the Phalen chain and other lakes near his home since 1999.

He said the earliest ice-out ever recorded on the chain was March 18 of last year. The median date is April 5 and the latest was April 21, until this year, when at the time this article went to press was still not free of ice.

What defines an ice-out?

The definition of an ice-out will vary from lake to lake and individual to individual, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.

Some people will only declare an ice-out when a lake is completely free of ice, others when a lake is 90 percent free of ice, and yet others when boat navigation is possible from one shoreline to another.

The latter being how Boulay determines an ice-out on lakes in the Maplewood area.

“When the lake is virtually free of ice and you can get from point A to point B anywhere on the lake, I’d say it’s out,” he said.

Boulay said in “the early days” on Lake Minnetonka an ice-out was declared when a purposely- parked car fell through the ice. People apparently used to place wagers on the date the car would fall through.

According to state records, the latest ice-out on Lake Minnetonka was May 8, 1856. The average date is April 13.

Closer to home in the northeast metro, Boulay said the latest ice-out for Lake Owasso is April 29, 1965. Forest Lake had its latest ice-out on April 27, 1975 and White Bear Lake on May 5, 1950.

Will spring 2013 be a record year for late ice-outs on those lakes?

“At this point anything is possible, but I think it’s too early to talk about records,” Boulay said.

He said the benchmark in the north metro area is White Bear Lake, because it has a record of ice-out days dating back to 1928.

Since that year there have only been two ice-out dates in May. The most recent of which was May 2, 1965.

Boulay said warm, windy, wet weather can hasten a lake’s ice-out, but more snow could delay any melting.

“Keep your fingers crossed. Hopefully the smaller lakes will open up this weekend,” he said.

When lakes do open up, Minnesota DNR Boat and Water Safety Specialist Kara Owens warn boaters to use caution.

“Boaters often don’t think about cold water emersion,” Owens said. “Icy water can be deadly.”

She said early season boaters should look out for chards of ice that could rock a boat over, wear life jackets and tell family members where they will be boating before heading out to the lake.

For more information on ice-out dates on Minnesota lakes go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/ice_out/index.html.

Boulay said he is always interested in ice-out dates people have recorded on lakes near their homes. If you have any recorded dates you can contact him at 651-296-4214.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at  jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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