In what might come as an early surprise to boaters and fishermen, Lake Minnetonka has officially been cleared by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol. The ice-out notice has actually come 19 days sooner this year than it did last year, and comes just weeks after snow gripped many areas in Minnesota. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office said that the ice is gone from the lake, meaning that boats are able to now pass through the bays and channels completely. The median ice-out date is April 14, so nearly 10 days earlier than any expected announcement. Given the fairly cold temperatures within the past few weeks, the announcement is a much-needed reminder that spring really is here.
The Freshwater Society helped the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol check Lake Minnetonka for snow and ice, with daily trips the past couple of weeks to ensure that an accurate and safe ice-out date was given to the public. Lake Minnetonka has had ice-out notices since 1855, with officials normally using the dates to track weather trends in the area. The lake has 37 different bays, so it’s not like the officials can clear the lake in one day to be safe for boaters. The size of the lake also is part of what takes so long for the ice-out notice to be given, because all of the areas have to be declared passable before the notice is given out. Lake Minnetonka is 14,500-acres long, and it’s estimates that 61,000 boats launch from the lake, while another 10,000 dock there.
With an ice-out notice, it’s important to remember that there still could be very thin ice in some spots, so boaters still need to use caution when traveling across the lake in the early part of the year. Ice-out notices just typically tell boaters that everything is passable, technically speaking, without any big blocks of ice or snow in the way. It’s still important to remember it’s early in the year, which means some amount of ice could be floating around, and you need to keep your eyes open while out there. Lake Minnetonka is also one of the most popular lakes in the state, which means that it’s likely you will see a lot of boaters out there, even if a few pieces of ice are still floating around. Some of the smaller lakes in the metro area have already gotten the ice-out notice a month ago, although they are much smaller and don’t see nearly the traffic Lake Minnetonka does. Every lake also has a certain method for figuring out ice-out notices, so it’s not like all of the lakes in the state use the same guidelines to determine safety.
Right now, the Twin Cities is seeing the ninth-driest year in nearly 145 years, and 92 percent of the state is now in a moderate drought. The water levels are a lot lower already this year than they were last year, because last year Lake Minnetonka was at record high levels. So this is also something boaters need to keep in mind as they venture out in the coming weeks, because low water levels could hinder boat efficiency and could also be dangerous if you try to swim in it. The Water Patrol and Freshwater Society have given the okay to go out and boat, but do say that you just have to use common sense. Obviously, the officials can’t see everything, so if you see a spot that looks a little dicey, whether it looks really low water-wise or there is ice, just steer towards another location.