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On thin ice

March 13, 2012

  It’s going to be hard to concentrate at work this week. Temperatures will soar and I’m expecting some record highs. We had our fourth warmest meteorological winter (December, January and February), and now this balmy stretch. A lot of people are loving it. I have some friends and relatives who are in Florida right now…maybe they should have stayed home to enjoy the warmth!

  Warm temperatures should lead to some gaping holes on area lakes later this week. When will ice-out be? That is a common question during warm spells in March. I spoke with Pat Sweeney, communications director of the Freshwater Society, which is headquartered in Excelsior, MN. He expects ice-out on Lake Minnetonka to occur this month. How is ice-out defined? From the Freshwater Society website, http://www.freshwater.org/ : “The Freshwater Society declares ice out according to a formula Freshwater founder Dick Gray set: The ice is out when it is possible to travel by small boat from any one shore to another shore through any passage on the lake. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol uses another formula: When it is possible to go by boat from the patrol’s headquarters in Spring Park through the Narrows and around Big Island without having to significantly alter course because of ice. The patrol’s dates generally, but not always, coincide with the Freshwater dates.”

  Records of ice-out dates for Lake Minnetonka can be found near the upper right corner of the Freshwater homepage. Ice-out has happened in March only seven times, based on records that go back to 1855. The earliest ice-out date for Lake Minnetonka was March 11, 1878. The second earliest was March 18, 2000-just twelve years ago. The median date of ice-out is April 14, meaning that half of the years have an earlier ice-out, and half of the years have a later ice-out.

  Early ice-outs are likely on a lot of lakes this year. The Minnesota State Climatology Office has an interactive web page with ice-out dates for many of our Minnesota lakes. You can find it at http://climate.umn.edu/lake_ice/ . Stay safe and enjoy the melt!

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