Northern lakes nearing 1950s ice out records

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MPR Photo/Conrad Wilson

ISLE, Minn. — People around Lake Mille Lacs and northern Minnesota often say that the state’s walleye opener is “like a holiday.”

But this year, the big story in those parts is that ice still covers many of the lakes north of the Twin Cities.

Some eagerly await the annual ice out, a rather obvious term that refers to the ice being absent from the lake. But it turns out it’s a loosely defined term.

The Minnesota State Climatology Office defers to local newspapers to deem the official ice out date.

But even then the date differs for each lake.

Some define it by most of the ice being gone, while other say ice out is when travel around the lake is relatively unrestricted.

Records show 1950 was a similar year to this one, with ice out for many lakes delayed well into May.

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Image courtesy of the Mille Lacs Messenger

The headline from the May 16, 1950 edition of the Mille Lacs Messenger reads, “Mille Lacs Opens – Hordes of Fishermen Battle Ice.”

With ice still covering most of Lake Mille Lacs, it’s possible this year could set a new record. The same can be said for lakes further north.

Leech Lake’s latest ice out date is May 23, 1950. The same goes for Lake Vermilion. Lake Bemidji is on record with May 22, 1950 ice out date.

Just last year many of these same lakes set record early ice out dates.

“Large interannual variations are not uncommon in a mid-continental climate,” notes Greg Spoden, state climatologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The extraordinary flip-flop of lake ice-out dates is an example of this variability.”

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