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Lake Minnetonka Could Face Historically Late Ice-Out

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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MINNETONKA, Minn. (WCCO) – Unseasonably chilly weather could make for a historically late ice-out date on Lake Minnetonka.

In 134 years of data, April 17, 18 and 19 are the most common dates for Minnetonka to be clear, defined by a boat’s ability to travel across the lake without encountering ice.

This year? Not a chance. The ice is 20 inches thick in some spots, and with more cold weather in the forecast, some wonder if we could be on our way to a not-so-desirable record.

“I don’t think we’re within days of the ice-out. We may be more within weeks of it,” said Pat Sweeney with the Freshwater Society, the Excelsior group that has tracked dates back to 1855. “It is conceivable that we could still have ice on the lake in May.”

Not since May 1, 1965 has an ice-out date in May been recorded. The lake was clear on May 2, 1950, April 28 the following year, as well as in 1978.

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Temperatures often are the best measuring stick for predictions. Here are the average temperatures so far this year compared to 1965:

January 2013
Min: 8.8
Max: 25.0

January 1965
Min: 1.0
Max: 18.9

February 2013
Min: 11.8
Max: 26.2

February 1965
Min: 1.0
Max: 22.5

March 2013
Min: 19.8
Max: 34.6

March 1965
Min: 11.9
Max: 27.0

April 2013 (to date)
Min: 29.7
Max: 42.6

April 1965
Min: 34.0
Max: 49.6

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But while the mercury may be the best indicator, there are other factors to consider.

“Colder temperatures mean we have more ice, however snowfall and accumulation also play a role,” Sweeney said. “More snow tends to insulate the ice, making it not as thick.”

Springtime variables matter, too.

“Rain is a big one,” Sweeney said. “If the ice is starting to break up and we get strong winds … that also contributes to clearing the ice.”

Experts agree the all-time record — set on May 8, 1856 — is virtually unbreakable In one of the coldest winters in Minnesota history, the air temperature recorded at Fort Snelling dropped below -10 degrees eight times in January, and registered -25 or below five times.

The temperature was -27 and -31 on Feb. 3 and 4, and hit lows of -10 to -16 degrees for three days in early March.

The Mississippi River was solidly frozen as late as March 28.

“I don’t think we’re going to get there,” Sweeney said. “It was dramatically colder that year than anything we’ve seen this winter or any year of recent memory.”

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Businesses along Minnetonka’s shoreline have been squeezed by our unusual cold.

At Wayzata Marine, the white tarps still blanket the large boats that last year, with its ice-out date of March 21, would have already been in the water.

“It’s awful cold and I think it affects our customers. They’re ready to get going and I think it affects our businesses because they can’t get the docks in,” owner Dave Briggs said.

The more days that go by with the temperature struggling to crack 40 degrees, the more difficult the time crunch for Briggs and his staff.

“Every boat need to be cleaned, run out mechanically, and more than 100 need to be driven to homes around the lake,” Briggs said. “We’ll get it done, but every day that goes by is a day we’re losing. When the weather warms up it will be all hands on deck.”

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