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Updated: Lake Minnetonka's Official Ice Out Declared

The Freshwater Society officially declared Lake Minnetonka completely free of ice as for March 21, 2012.

Updated March 21, 2012

Editor's Note: Information provided by the Freshwater Society

The ice is out on Lake Minnetonka.

The Freshwater Society, which has declared when the ice officially is out since the 1960s, made the call at 9:12 a.m. on Wednesday, March 21.

This year’s ice-out is 24 days earlier than last year and is tied for the third-earliest ice-out in records going back to 1855. Last year's ice-out came on April 14,  the median date for ice-out.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol uses a different standard: 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 Water Patrol declared the ice out at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, March 20.

Check out a year-by-year log of official ice-out dates, and a calendar showing the number of time the break-up has occurred on specific dates.

This year’s ice-out was hastened by a much warmer-than-normal winter and the incredible string of warm days in mid-March. The average Twin Cities temperature for December, January and February was 26.3 degrees Fahrenheit, the fourth-balmiest winter on record. By contrast, last year’s average for those three months was 15.7 degrees.

Ice out on Lake Minnetonka is a sign of spring that scientists and lakeshore residents have been tracking and recording since at least 1855. Freshwater Society founder Dick Gray, who catalogued the early records and has made his own records since 1968, described the standard for determining ice-out in a 2003 column: “when it is possible to travel by small boat from any one shore to any other shore through any passage on the lake.”

Prior to that, Gray wrote, ice-out sometimes was determined by when a car placed on the ice fell through or when a boat could travel from Excelsior to Wayzata.

Ice-out dates for 22 of the years since 1855 are unknown. Several years ago, Pete Boulay of the Minnesota State Climatology Office found old Smithsonian Weather Observer records that contained ice-out information for two years—1863 and 1873—had had long been missing from the official log.

If you have old publications that report ice-out for any of those 22 missing years, contact the Freshwater Society or Boulay.

The Freshwater Society will celebrate the ice out and the visits of loons to Lake Minnetonka and other area lakes on the loons' migration north with an Ice Out/Loon

In party and fund-raiser on April 12 at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka Beach. Learn more about the event and buy tickets.

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Original article March 20, 2012 by Jay Corn

While most of Lake Minnetonka has broken free of winter's icy grip and is now navigable, a stubborn stip of ice in a small channel connecting Lake Minnetonka to Tanger Lake near Orono remains.

The Freshwater Society, headquartered in Excelsior, is expected to formally announce "ice out" on Lake Minnetonka at any time.

While the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office declared ice out at 5 a.m. Tuesday, the Freshwater Society is the official caller of ice out and has been for more than 40 years.

On Lake Minnetonka, the ice is designated as “out” when it is possible to travel by small boat from any one shore to another shore through any passage on the lake. Freshwater Society founder Dick Gray, who catalogued the early records and has made his own records since 1968, forumulated the standard.

A strong line of thunderstorms moving through the area Monday night sped up an ice out that was already well under way thanks to unseasonably warm March temperatures, and this year's ice out is among the earliest on record. Ice out has been declared in March only four times in recorded history: 1858, 1878, 2000 and now 2012.

Last year's ice out didn't occur until April 14.

The City of Minnetonka announced Tuesday that the public access on Grays Bay—the most popular Lake Minnetonka entry point—was officially open for the season. Boarding docks will be installed early next week, but gas will not be available until April.

The days and weeks following ice out are some of the most dangerous of the season. The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office is urging boaters to take extra precautions and has provided the following list of recommended safety measures.

  • Use caution when boating on Lake Minnetonka, there are many navigational buoys that are not in place yet.
  • It’s especially important to wear a life jacket when boating. At this time, water temperatures on all bodies of water are cold, if you were to fall into water, hypothermia happens quickly in these conditions.
  • When boating or spending time near water, let someone know where you are going and when you will return.
  • Many children have extra free time during Spring Break vacation.  Children enjoy exploring creeks, ponds, rivers, and lakes. Parents and caregivers are urged to supervise children when they are near the water.

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