White Bear Lake shook off the last of its winter ice Monday -- perfect timing, considering that Tuesday is the first official day of spring.
It was also the earliest ice-free date on record for the lake, not at all surprising after one of the mildest winters on record and 10 days of record-setting March warmth.
"You could just watch it disappear," said Jan Holtz Kraemer, who rides the 10 miles around the lake daily on a bicycle each spring before making the official call. "No snow, no insulation, lots of wind, and high temperatures."
Ice had left lakes as far north as northern Chisago County by Monday, according to the climatology office with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). For many, it was also the earliest such occurrence, although few have records as long as White Bear, where the accounting goes back to 1928.
The March 19 date for White Bear Lake was two days earlier than the previous record, set in 2000, and just hours before spring's arrival at 12:14 a.m. Tuesday.
Lake Minnetonka, which breaks completely free of ice about the same time as White Bear, wasn't quite there Monday, said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. The Freshwater Society, which keeps the records on Minnetonka and makes its own ice-out call, pegs the record earliest date on Lake Minnetonka as March 11. That happened in 1878, the Year Without Winter.
Holtz Kraemer, 57, has been making the ice-out call on her own for 11 years. For the previous 11, she accompanied Benny Schmaltzbauer, a long-time local barber, on ice-watching rounds he'd started doing in 1944.
She also takes $1 bets on when the ice will vanish. This year's date was earlier than anybody's guess, so the $40 pool will go to a food shelf, she said.
• Mosquitoes are out in the metro area -- "pretty unusual for this time of year," said Jim Stark, executive director of the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District. Dry conditions ought to keep the population down; rain could change everything.
• Lake Waconia went ice-free on Sunday, 25 days ahead of average, but six days later than the record-earliest date, set in 2000.
• Several species of butterflies have been flitting about, even in the Arrowhead, where they emerged last weekend, about 10 days ahead of normal, said Pete Harris,of the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center near Finland. Woodchucks also emerged about two weeks early.
• Maple sap has continued to run even during recent warm nights, noted naturalist Jim Gilbert. Sap usually either stops or becomes unsuitable for syrup-making during untimely warm spells, but the sap running now -- although only 10 to 15 percent of what might be normal -- should make good syrup.
• Shorebirds and other water-loving birds have migrated back to the metro area, slightly ahead of schedule. Many familiar species probably won't be here for a while, because they either need insects to eat or wait for changes in daylight, said Val Cunningham, a St. Paul bird surveyor who writes a Star Tribune column.
• Assistant DNR climatologist Pete Boulay noted chorus frogs singing in Maplewood last week, well ahead of normal.
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646
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