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Early spring equals early ice out?

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Early spring equals early ice out?
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Now that spring is in the air, many people are beginning to wonder when the ice will come off of Big and Little Detroit lakes.

Abnormally warm temperatures have brought speculation that it could happen before the end of March -- but according to Richard Hecock, a consultant for the Pelican River Watershed District, a March "ice out" date is relatively rare.

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Hecock has been tracking "ice out" dates for the PRWD since 1993, but "ice out" data for Big and Little Detroit actually extends back a little farther than that.

"We have 117 years of records for ice outs," Hecock said.

"Ice out" is defined by Hecock as occurring when the ice has melted off 90 percent of the lake.

Since recording of the ice out data for Big and Little Detroit first began, there have been only 15 years when the ice was off the lakes before April 10, he noted.

"The last time it happened before April 10 was in the year 2000, and that was on April 3rd," Hecock said. "But that's only been once in the last 20 years."

The earliest recorded ice out date occurred in 1910, when the ice was officially off the lake on March 23.

Hecock admits, however, that he is a little leery of that date, because access to Big Detroit was limited in the early 1900s.

"I'm a little skeptical about some of those earlier readings," he said. "I think they used Little Detroit because there weren't roads all the way around Big Detroit.

"I think they (early ice out dates) tend to be a little exaggerated because of the (lack of) access to Big Detroit."

Because it is a larger body of water than Little Detroit, ice out tends to come a little later there, Hecock added.

"Often the ice will be out on Little Detroit a week before it happens on Big Detroit," he said.

Though the ice out dates recorded over the past 117 years have shown a high degree of unpredictability, March ice outs have been extremely rare, Hecock noted.

The last time it happened was in 1945, when a March 31 ice out date was recorded. "I think that's pretty accurate," Hecock added.

Actually, ice outs before April 10 have only occurred 12 to 13 percent of the time, he said.

The average ice out date for the local lakes is April 20, and most of the data has tended to cluster around that date, Hecock noted.

"We'd be in pretty rare territory if it happened in the next two weeks," Hecock said.

But it's not impossible, he added.

Ice melts have more to do with the angle of the sun hitting the frozen surface than they do with the actual temperature outside, Hecock said.

"But there's a fair amount of sun heading our way next week along with higher temperatures, if you believe the long- term forecast," he said.

The sunshine "could speed things up and put us into record territory," Hecock added.

The actual date is of some interest to the local Coffee Club, which holds an ice out contest each year -- with the winner (or winners) taking home both the pot and bragging rights until the following year.

Complete ice in/ice out data for Detroit Lakes is available at the Pelican River Watershed District Web site, www.prwd.org (click on "Lake Reports" in the menu on the right side of the page).

Ice out data for not only Detroit, but other Becker County lakes including Cormorant and Sallie, is available on the University of Minnesota's site, www.climate.umn.edu.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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