Lake Minnetonka’s ice is out

The ice is out on Lake Minnetonka for 2014.

The Freshwater Society and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol declared the ice out for the season as of  7:30 a.m. Thursday, April 24. Open water on the lake is a welcome sign of spring after a winter that has been one of the coldest in more than a century.

Last year, the Freshwater Society declared the ice out on May 2. The Water Patrol made the call a day earlier.

This year, Freshwater and the Water Patrol agreed to make a joint determination and joint announcement of ice-out on the lake.

The ice-out call for 2014 was made after several days of monitoring the ice from shore by the Freshwater Society and five trips into the lake by the Water Patrol. Tom Skramstad, a Freshwater Board member, accompanied a deputy sheriff on boat trips to the last places on the lake where significant ice had been observed.

On Thursday morning, the Freshwater Society and the Water Patrol concluded it was possible to boat through all the bays and channels of the metro area’s biggest lake. They then declared the ice out for the season.

Check out a year-by-year log of past ice-out dates, and a calendar showing the number of time the break-up has occurred on specific dates. View the Minnesota Climatology Working Group’s listing of ice-out dates for other Minnesota lakes this year.

Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka is a sign of spring that scientists, naturalists and lakeshore residents have been tracking since at least 1855. The late Dick Gray, the lead founder of the Freshwater Society, cataloged the early records and made his own records from 1968 through 2013.

Ice-out has been determined by a number of methods — sometimes when a car placed on the ice fell through or when a boat could travel from Excelsior to Wayzata. Read a 2003 column by Mr. Gray about the history of ice-outs on the lake.

How cold were the temperatures that built up this year’s ice? For December through February, the period known as “meteorological winter,” the average temperature in the Twin Cities was about 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit – colder than all but eight of the 142 winters since 1895. If you have lived in the Twin Cities all your life and you are younger than 35, you’ve never experienced a colder December-through-February.

The average temperatures for March this year was 25.5 degrees, 7.3 degrees below normal. April so far has averaged 42.6 degrees, 2.9 degrees below normal.