If there weren’t a pandemic, the main concern for many Minnesotans would be when their favorite of our 10,000 lakes is free of ice.

It may matter even more this year, since government edicts against close contact still allow folks to swim, boat and fish.

So a little bit of good news: It appears ice-outs across Minnesota are about a week ahead of schedule.

At least 16 lakes, mostly in the southern part of the state, have lost their ice. Lake Minnetonka is expected to have its ice-out within the week, much earlier than last year’s April 20.

Grays and Excelsior bays on Lake Minnetonka are open, but the ice on most of the lake’s 37 bays and channels is still 4 to 8 inches thick, said Lt. Shane Magnuson of the Hennepin County Water Patrol. He was told the thickest ice on the lake is about 11 inches.

“With families having to stay inside, we expect to soon see a lot more traffic on the lakes,” he said. “It’s actually a good way to practice social distancing.”

Depending on the weather, ice-outs throughout the state typically are complete by the end of April. The definition of ice-out can vary from lake to lake. For citizen observers making official reports, ice-out occurs when the lake is completely free of ice. Others call it when it’s possible to navigate from one point to another.

Generally, ice-out occurs when a lake is 90% free of ice, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Observers use consistent criteria from year to year when reporting lake ice-out dates, and results are posted on the DNR website.

Lake Pepin in Lake City is the largest lake that has registered an ice-out, said Pete Boulay, a climatologist with the DNR. The ice-out for Pepin, a wide corridor on the Mississippi River, is helped by barge traffic, he said.

The DNR doesn’t measure ice thickness on lakes and suggests people check thickness at least every 150 feet. Ice-out dates shouldn’t be used to track ice thickness for recreational use.

Magnuson agrees with Gov. Tim Walz’s appeal to citizens to spend time outside, though the ice on most metro lakes remains unstable. But soon it will be time for spring fishing and boating, he said; Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis had its ice-out April 9 last year.

Ice-outs will be pushed along this weekend by rainy and windy weather and above- normal temperatures.

“If we have snow and cold, that would slam the door shut,” Boulay said.