Rain helps Lake Minnetonka inch closer to ice out

While the rain may not be anyone’s weather of choice, it is actually helping melt the ice left on Minnesota’s lakes.

A few times a day, or once or twice a shift, deputies of the Hennepin County Water Patrol fire up one of their airboats in what is a springtime ritual for them.

Airboats are the only way to get out on the April mix of water and ice this time of year. They take these daily trips to see how much ice is left and how quickly it is melting.

“This is how we check ice,” said Troy Kostohrzy, demonstrating the ritual. “Hook it underneath the bottom, grab the pole where the ice is, lift it up, take a look at the ice. We got about 7 inches at this point.”

A few days ago, they measured a foot of ice on Spring Park Bay. Tuesday’s sunny 70 degrees put a dent in it and Wednesday’s heavy rain helped erode the ice faster than even the sun can.

“The rain is starting to get on top of the ice and push it down,” said Kostohrzy. “It’ll sink a lot of this ice, even out front. It was pretty close to shore this morning and it’s already gone out quite a bit.”

Records of the ice thickness go back to 1855 and the median date for ice out is April 14.

The most common dates are April 17, 18 and 19. The earliest was March 11, 1879 and the latest was May 5, 1857 and again in 2018.

The ice doesn’t have to be gone for ice out to occur. It’s declared when you can get from one end of the lake to the other.

It’s an important declaration for boaters and, in some case, bettors, who find it fun to put a few bucks on it with friends.

“Days or weeks,” said Kostohrzy, of the timetable for this year’s ice out. “I would say, within the next week or two, ice will be out.”