Minnesota ice season will be one for the record books

An area of broken ice and open water on a lake
Open water is seen in the area where a snowmobile broke through the ice on Little Rock Lake in Benton County on Jan. 12.
Courtesy of Benton County Sheriff's Office

Ice conditions on Minnesota lakes are improving as recent cold weather brings new ice, but state officials still urge caution when venturing out on frozen lakes.  

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources climatologist Pete Boulay is still collecting information about lake ice-in dates across the state, but this season will likely be one for the record books. 

“This was probably the strangest lake ice-in season I can remember since I started working here 25 years ago, just seeing open water in January on some of the bigger lakes in the Twin Cities was very unusual,” Boulay said.

The ice-in date is when lakes are frozen over for the season.

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Boulay said most Minnesota lakes were frozen by late November before melting during the record warmth of December. He’s keeping two sets of data to account for the December melt.

“I thought we were going to have a very easy ice-in season,” recalled Boulay. “Most of the state's lakes had frozen over right on November 28th or 29th from north to south. Little did I know that here comes the warmest December we’ve seen and melted all that ice,” he said.

Some lakes in the state broke records for latest ice-in date.

“Lake Waconia in Carver County finally froze over January 4th, that’s a new record,” said Boulay. “Lake Minnetonka froze over on the 13th of January. And that broke the old record by 11 days.”

It’s likely more records will fall as reports trickle in from volunteer observers across the state over the next several weeks.

While the timing of when lakes freeze and thaw can change significantly from year to year, this winter fits the long-term trend of shorter lake ice seasons in Minnesota, said Boulay. On average, lakes are freezing later in the year and ice is breaking up earlier in the spring.

“But with a high degree of variability. It can vary quite a bit from year to year,” he said. “So you wouldn’t be able to use this year to predict next year’s ice cover season.”