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Spring ushers in ice outs across Minnesota

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Ice out
Ice begins to break up on Mooers Lake in Cottage Grove, Minn., Tuesday.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

We did it, Minnesota. We survived another winter and made it to spring.   

Signs of the season abound: Golf courses are about to open (some already have), outdoor patios are ready for seating and allergy sufferers are reaching for tissues. 

And ice out. Let's not forget about ice outs across Minnesota. The thawing of our lakes puts a spring in our steps because open lakes mean we'll soon be casting aside our snowshoes and skis in favor of fishing, swimming and boating. As DNR climatologist Pete Boulay says, "It's a real sign of spring." 

But: What makes ice out, ice out?

Turns out, there's no real consensus, other than the idea that it means the disappearance of ice from a body of water.  

The DNR uses observers (which can be individuals or groups familiar with the lakes and weather patterns) to report ice outs across the state, and the definition varies from individual to individual. The Freshwater Society and Hennepin County Sheriff's Water Patrol, for example, monitor and declare the ice out on Lake Minnetonka each year. 

Boulay said there are three main ways to measure an ice out: 

• ability to get from point A to point B across a lake;
  • when about 90 percent of a lake is ice-free;
•  or when a lake is completely free of ice.

Since the definitions vary, the DNR typically contacts the same observer or group in each part of the state to maintain some consistency over individual bodies of water.

"We usually leave it in the hands of the locals to declare their ice outs," Boulay said. 

When that happens, people usually take it as a sign that it's time to get their boats out. 

Last year was the second consecutive year with a late lake ice out in Minnesota, the DNR said. But given the recent warmth, will we break the streak this year? 

"There's no way to know, but we did have a quick start," Boulay said. At least five lakes are already free of ice in southwestern Minnesota: Shaokotan, Island, Sarah, Shetek and Hall. 

"We'll see if that perpetuates through April," Boulay said. "At least it looks positive for now. I'm not looking for a repeat of 2013 or 2014." 

Track the 2015 ice out on this map. It usually continues through May. 

No doubt boaters and anglers are eagerly awaiting the thaw. A late ice out could affect the fishing opener in May. In 2013's opener, anglers were greeted with icy lakes.

It's also worth mentioning that with the ice starting to melt, it's a good idea to stay off lakes and rivers. One man had to be rescued from a piece of ice on the St. Croix River Tuesday. In Duluth, fire officials said four people were rescued from the ice on Lake Superior after one of them fell through. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.