White Bear Lake was declared ice-free Wednesday, one of the key way points on spring’s march across the metro area.
Lake Minnetonka is expected to follow soon. And most of the metro’s smaller lakes and those across southern Minnesota are free of ice.
Jan Holtz Kraemer made the call on White Bear Lake on Wednesday morning. She has been the official ice-out arbiter at the lake for 13 years, after sharing the job for 11 years with local barber Benny Schmaltzbauer, who began the ritual in 1944. Records on White Bear Lake’s ice go back 86 years.
This year’s ice-out was nine days behind the median date but well ahead of the latest date: May 4, 1950.
On Lake Minnetonka, residents and lake businesses are closely watching for the much-anticipated ice-out. But Wednesday, Wayzata Bay still had ice cover, officials said.
Still, the lake won’t make any history this year. The latest ice-out is May 5, and last year came close at May 2.
For the first time, the Freshwater Society, which has tracked the ice-out for decades, is jointly declaring it with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office after years of disputes.
Last year, the county declared ice-out a day before the nonprofit, saying that a water patrol boat has to be able to navigate from Spring Park to Big Island. The Freshwater Society’s criterion: A small boat must be able to travel from one shoreline to another.
Now, the groups are making the decision together when a boat can navigate through the bays and channels.
“It’s an effort to be as accurate as we can be,” Freshwater Society spokesman Pat Sweeney said. “It’s a fundamentally subjective issue.”
He added that, worldwide, scientists are using ice-out as one source of data in measuring climate change.
“It matters to keep these records,” he said, “and to be as precise as possible.”