Who makes the 'ice out' call on Lake Minnetonka

You’ve probably heard by now: ice out was declared on Lake Minnetonka at 12:16 a.m. on March 17, 2016. But who makes that call?

The decision to declare “ice out” is a joint call made by the Freshwater Society and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol. It’s a call based on spotters keeping track of vanishing ice, and then a boat ride that ensures all of Lake Minnetonka’s bays are navigable.

The sheriff’s water patrol is headquartered on the water, and the Freshwater Society has a team of ice spotters. The two organizations teamed up three years ago to make the ice declarations together.

“We’ve got a system of observers scattered around the lake that will call us, and occasionally tweet, and email us about the status of things. And when it gets close, that’s when we do the joint patrols on the water with the Hennepin County Water Patrol,” Steve Woods, executive director of the Freshwater Society, told Fox 9.

One of the most prolific ice spotters is Jim Gilbert, a naturalist and resident on Lake Waconia, where he also ice spots.

“When we were younger, we used to circle the calendar and wonder when the ice is going to go out. And that got me. I’m going to start keeping track every year,” Gilbert told Fox 9.

On Wednesday, Gilbert noticed that little ice remained on Lake Minnetonka. So did the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol.

“We called our partners at the freshwater society about 11:30 [Wednesday] night, 11:15, got them to come out. We went out and check the whole lake, and ice was gone,” Lt. Kent Vnuk. “We are out there with the Freshwater Society in freezing cold, making sure we get you the proper times out for the ice out.”

The March 17 ice out is the second earliest recorded ice out on Lake Minnetonka. Records date back to an earliest ice out on March 11, 1878, but there are twenty years of missing ice-out dates. Half of ice outs have occurred before April 14, and half occurred after that date — with the majority of ice outs in the last two decades occurring before April 14, according to Freshwater Society records.