Ice watch: Cold March keeps lakes frozen

SARANAC LAKE – A frigid March has resulted in a thicker-than-normal ice layer for many area lakes and ponds, keeping fisherman and boaters at bay and ice-out contestants guessing when they might see open water.

“I’m still hearing that there’s a foot-and-a-half or so still on the lakes in a lot of spots,” said Blue Line Sports fishing manager Mike Wallace.

Wallace said he hasn’t heard of many people fishing at all, even though trout season opened on April 1. That isn’t necessarily abnormal for this time of the year. Historically, ice-out has occurred in mid-April or later. However, in recent years warm spring weather has open waters by early April.

Wallace guesses there won’t be an ice-out until May.

Lower Saranac Lake resident Jack Drury has recorded ice-out in Ampersand Bay since 1975. He said the latest one took place on May 8 in 1978. The second latest was May 5 in 1975, and the third latest was May 1 in 1992. The mean date for ice-out is about April 20 or 21, he said.

In the last decade, Drury’s noticed a warming trend, especially recently. Three of his five earliest ice-out dates were in the last five years. The earliest was March 24 in 2012. It was April 4 in 2010 and April 9 in 2009.

Drury said his dates are based on when he sees only open water from his lakeside porch. His view is of the mouth of Ampersand Bay.

Drury guessed this year’s ice-out may be around April 30 or May 1.

“I’m looking at the edge, and there’s at least 18 inches to 2 feet of ice,” Drury said Thursday. “It’s just beginning to melt around the rocks, and the dogs out on the lake right now.”

The thick ice is the result of a very cold March. It went below freezing in 16 of the 31 days in March, according to the Paul Smith’s College weather station. The coldest day was March 17, when it hit negative 21.4 degrees. Overall, the mean temperature was 18 degrees.

“For March, if it wasn’t the coldest in the last 50 to 80 years, it was the top one or two or three,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Nash, who is based in Burlington, Vt. “Pretty much it was one of the coldest for March and on average about 10 degrees below normal for the month of March. That’s really why the winter seemed so much longer.”

However, Nash said that generally in the North Country it wasn’t an excessively cold winter from December to February.

“From December to February, it was maybe a degree or two below normal,” he said. “It wasn’t much different. We weren’t excessively cold. I think we still perceived it as very cold because the last several winters have been well above normal. This is the first colder-than-normal winter we’ve had in a (few) years.

Flood watch issued

Ice may be thick on lakes but streams and rivers are flowing strong, and the National Weather Service in Burlington has issued a floodwatch from Saturday afternoon through Wednesday evening for the northern Adirondacks.

Temperatures are supposed to be above normal this weekend into early next week, leading to increased snowmelt in the higher elevations. The highest temperatures are expected Monday and will be followed by a cold front Tuesday, when 1 to 2 inches of rain is expected.

“We’re about to hit a warm period,” said Andy Nash, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vt. “Some places will probably be close to 80, or well into the 70s, on Monday and probably close to 80 here in the Champlain Valley.”

The 80-degree temperature will likely be outside the Adirondacks, but it is forecast to get warm enough to melt some of the snowpack in the higher elevations here. That melting combined with some rain early next week could lead to flooding.

“We’re looking for fairly widespread flooding for Tuesday and Wednesday,” Nash said. “It looks like most places will see the rivers and streams come onto their banks. How bad the flooding will be? We haven’t determined that. Minor to at least some moderate flooding.”