Early ice-out on Lake Minnetonka in 2016
Freshwater Society and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol returned to shore early in the morning on Thursday, March 17, 2016 and declared the lake to be ice free as of 12:16 a.m., the second earliest ice-out date on record. This was 19 days earlier than 2015 and 28 days earlier than the April 14 median date — when half the recorded ice-outs have occurred earlier and half later. In the last twenty years, 14 dates have been earlier than the median date and six have been later.
Ice-out records on Lake Minnetonka date back to 1855 and are a valuable if inexact method for revealing long-term trends. There is no one best way to determine ice-out on lakes; methods vary from lake to lake so consistency from year to year is what researchers and agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources prefer to see. Lake Minnetonka is declared ice-free when a boat can pass through channels and navigate all portions of the lake.
The ice-out call for 2016 was made after monitoring the ice from shore and making calls to nearby Society members. Once conditions allowed, the Water Patrol began boat trips accompanied by Freshwater Society board members to areas of the lake where significant ice remained.
Freshwater Society board member Todd Bolin and Hennepin County Water Patrol deputies were on the lake and noted there was rapidly diminishing slush in Robinson’s Bay but that all the lake’s bays and channels were fully navigable. Lake Minnetonka is the metro area’s largest lake, just over 14,500 acres in size with 37 bays.
Check out a year-by-year log of past ice-out dates, and a calendar showing the number of times the ice-out 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.
Historically, ice-out has been determined by a number of methods — such as 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.