Peculiar Spring Ice-out Recapped

One week after ice out on Alton Lake. Photo courtesy of uncommonseminars.com, bird ecology class.

The final 2013 ice out dates have been recorded for the lakes in the Quetico Superior. For many, even those that have reliable records back over 50 years this was a record late break-up. For others, this was the latest break-up since 1950. Either way it was an extraordinary spring especially coming on the heels of 2012 which saw some of the earliest ice-free dates ever recorded. Here are some specific ice out dates this spring. Saganaga 5/19, Vermilion 5/17, Knife 5/16, Sawbill 5/15, Moose 5/14 (for more lakes click here). These dates were over two weeks later than the norm and over a month later than last spring.

With high temperature records being broken early this summer from arctic Alaska to the desert Southwest, how was it that Quetico Superior had such a cold spring, and does this year’s spring weather refute the theory of global warming? Climatologists will be the first to tell us that weather does not equal climate. Just as a July heat wave alone does not mean global warming is happening a cold spring in Quetico Superior does not prove it’s not. In fact, most climatologists prefer the term, human induced climate change because a warming planet may result certain areas becoming colder and will also create bizarre storms and temperature swings that cannot be explained by the historical record.  Climatologists theorize this spring’s late arrival on an uncharacteristic shift of the jet stream, the albedo effect of the sun’s energy being reflected off a stubborn snowpack and atmospheric conditions that favored consistent fog and low cloud shielding the impact of the sun’s radiation.

Although the late ice-out frustrated some anglers and caused some canoeists to postpone their tripping plans, it had a more dastardly impact on migrating birds that arrived on time but found the Quetico Superior less hospitable and nourishing than normal. Birders reported many songbirds in emaciated condition and Bill Hansen of Sawbill Outfitters remarked that he witnessed a grebe tumble from the sky, dead from starvation. Although that particular grebe might not agree, most naturalists believe that, in the long term, occasional flukey weather events do not threaten the ecosystem and may even have a beneficial influence on the natural ebb and flow of animal species’ cycles of abundance.

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