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.
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.
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.