The coast is clear for boats to navigate Lake Minnetonka after an earlier than usual ice-out was announced Tuesday.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Water Patrol, in partnership with the Freshwater Society, declared ice out — the official start of boating season — at 1:13 p.m.

This year's warm weather — and especially Monday's heavy winds — vanquished the ice with startling speed, said Tom Skramstad, a lakeside resident for 65 years who was among crews that took turns patrolling the 14,500-acre lake waiting for the moment to announce the ice-out.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said. "Yesterday the wind was just pushing ice out of there like a freight train."

In the days before ice-out, the crews navigate the lake's 37 bays and 20 islands to see if a boat can get through. Ice-out means a boat can navigate all parts of the lake without frozen obstruction, even if some chunks of ice linger in the water.

As late as Tuesday morning there was still enough hard ice to stop a boat. But by afternoon it had softened to a honeycomb texture.

"And of course, it goes 'tinkle, tinkle' when your boat hits it," said Skramstad, who has served as a Water Patrol deputy and is on the board of the Freshwater Society.

The state Department of Natural Resources keeps records of ice-outs (and their wintry opposites, ice-ins) around the state. Ice-outs have been declared in lakes throughout southern Minnesota over the past couple of weeks — a week or two earlier than usual.

Historically, Lake Minnetonka's ice has taken its leave as early as March 17 in 2016, and hung around as late as May 5 in 2018 and 1857. Mid-April is more typical — April 17, 18 and 19 have marked ice-outs nine times apiece.

With this year's chance to hit the water early, Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson urged caution.

"We understand that people are ready to get outside and enjoy themselves after a long and difficult year," he said in a statement. "We're encouraging everyone who wants to get out onto the lake to remember both general pandemic safety and water safety. We want people to get out and take advantage of the natural resources Hennepin County has to offer, but we want everyone to do so responsibly."

Katy Read • 612-673-4583