Lake outflows reduced

What a crazy, whacked out weather start to 2013! Boats are supposed to be on the water by now but the water remains frozen, at least on many of the state’s lakes. Snow covers much of the landscape and spring is transforming into myth.

Is it true that ice really has stayed on lakes longer than usual? The answer is definitely yes.

“If you don’t have a very long memory it’s probably the latest ever,” said Fred Ryckman, fisheries biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “We’ve had some really late springs but it’s likely to be a record, or awfully close to it.”

Randy Hiltner, fish biologist with Game & Fish, has been eager to begin the annual spring netting of spawning fish on Devils Lake but the lake remains encased in ice. Until the ice leaves the lake, the setting of nets is impossible.

“I don’t actually keep track, but this has to be one of the top three latest seasons for ice out since I’ve been here in the early 90’s,” said Hiltner.

There were reports of 30 inches or more of ice on Devils Lake last week, meaning ice out could still be several days away. In addition to a thick ice pack, there’s another issue at Devils Lake.

“For how late it is in the spring, there’s still a lot of snow on the ice,” said Hiltner. “It’s extraordinarily late.”

Weather forecasts called for record low temperatures at several points in the state Monday night. Other records for seasonal futility continue to fall elsewhere in North Dakota. Grand Forks and Fargo have already gone into the record books for having the longest start to a year without the thermometer reaching 50 degrees.

The aging records were among the longest standing marks in weather history for those cities. Grand Forks’ previous record was April 21, 1904, and Fargo’s April 17, 1881. According to the latest forecast by the National Weather Service, neither city is expected to see 50 degrees or better until Friday.

The story is similar in the Minot area. Lake Darling remained solidly encased in ice Monday despite fluctuations in elevation due to weeks of varying inflow and releases. The boat fishing season is scheduled to open May 1 on Lake Darling but it appears ice augers may be more appropriate than watercraft.

“I’ve been here since the 90’s and this is probably the latest. It all depends on your memory,” said Tom Pabian, Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge manager. “I know one year we got the boat ramp in near the dam just before the opener.”

“Later than I’ve probably ever seen it,” added Duane Anderson, longtime employee at Upper Souris NWR. “Nothing like this, nothing like 30 inches of ice a week before boat ramps are supposed to open up.”

Lake Darling’s ice pack has yet to show any serious signs of weakening. In addition, much of the lake remains covered with snow. Snow on top of ice is generally an insulator that slows ice development, but it also can slow down the melt by shielding the ice from the sun’s rays.

Actual records for ice free dates are kept for the state’s largest body of water Lake Sakakawea. That massive reservoir remained frozen Monday and it may be several days, perhaps weeks, before it is declared ice free.

“There’s a lot of ice on it. It’s going to be late for ice out,” said Dave Fryda, fish biologist with Game & Fish at Riverdale. “I’d guess we’ve had ice out later than this on Sakakawea. Sometimes it goes into May before ice out.”

Records show Fryda to be correct. Nevertheless, according to the agency that oversees operation of Lake Sakakawea, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the latest dates for declaring the reservoir ice free are indeed in jeopardy of being surpassed.

The latest ice free date on record for Lake Sakakawea is May 17, 1979. In all, the top eight latest ice free dates occurred in May. Ranking ninth and tenth are April 29th of 2002 and 2009. Those marks are less than a week away and, given the current status of the ice pack on Lake Sakakawea, seem very likely to be surpassed unless there is a dramatic change in weather conditions.

“It can go really fast if you get a warm rain,” noted Fryda.

There’s no rain in the forecast for the next few days, only snow. However, says the NWS, daytime temperatures are expected to rise into the 40s over much of the state Thursday and into the 50s on Friday. If that trend continues, especially under sunny skies, one of the most long-lived ice packs in state history will grudgingly give way to open water.