By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s starting to look like spring on Lake Minnetonka. Officials are keeping a close eye on the ice and could declare an official ice-out date in coming days.

Officials have monitored ice-out dates for more than 150 years.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol Unit uses an airboat to glide over the ice on Lake Minnetonka. Deputies park the boat and drill through the ice, taking measurements to see how thick it is. This is how they declare an ice-out date.

“Typically, ice-out is when we can safely navigate a boat through every single bay and channel without having to move around ice packs ice sheets,” Deputy Mathias Weinzierl said.

This year’s ice-out should happen earlier than last year’s historically late date but will be later than average for the lake.

On Thursday, Weinzierl measured a spot with 5 inches of ice cover with another two layers of slush on top of it. He says the thickest spots on the lake are still 8-10 inches, which is nearly half of what they were one week ago. Weinzierl doesn’t think the ice will last through the weekend.

Boaters, dock installers and marina owners are all eager to get the all-clear. The sheriff’s office said some marina owners try to control the ice flows themselves to keep them from pushing into their docks causing damage.

Last week’s snow and Wednesday’s rain will speed up the process.

The water patrol unit wants to stress the ice is no longer safe to be on and urges people to remember safe boating practices. Remember that there must be one lifejacket per person on boats and children under the age of 10 should be wearing a life preserver at all times.

Check your registration, make sure you have a fire extinguisher and always designate a sober boat driver.

Erin Hassanzadeh