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Western Minnesota lakes seeing early ice-out

After a stretch of open water reflecting clouds, the lake ice still stretches away out into Big Detroit Lake on Tuesday in this photo taken by Sally Hausken, who lives on the southeast corner of the lake. Submitted photo1 / 2
The view from City Beach out onto Little Detroit Lake on Tuesday shows open water just waiting to warm up for summer. Meagan Pittelko/ Forum News Service2 / 2

DETROIT LAKES, Minn.—In what looks to be one of the earliest ice-outs ever, most of Big Detroit Lake—one of the most popular lakes in western Minnesota --- was wavy and free again on Tuesday, April 4.

A section in the southeast corner was still locked in ice, however.

There was no official call on ice-out by the Pelican River Watershed District, which keeps records, on Tuesday.

Ice-off dates can be a little complicated, because the melting process tends to be more gradual than the freeze-up process.

"I rely on the standard that is suggested by ice observers elsewhere—when the lake is 'substantially' ice-free (90 percent or more) it is considered melted," Dick Hecock, an adviser to the Pelican River Watershed District, said in notes attached to a graph charting breakups and freeze-ups. "Hence, there may still be some floating ice or some wind-driven piles of ice along some shorelines," he said.

One of the earliest ice-outs on record occurred just a few years ago, on March 23, 2012. That tied the record from 1910.

Other early ice-offs include March 28 in 1902 and March 31 in 1945

• In 2010 ice-out was recorded on April 2.

• In 2000 ice-out was April 3.

• In 1946 ice-out was April 3.

• In 1898 ice-out was April 5

• In 1981 ice-out was April 6.

The records go back to 1893, so anyway you slice it, the ice left early this year.

But as with so many things over a long period of times, there are some doubts that consistent standards have been applied over all the years of this record, said Hecock, who has long been associated with the Pelican River Watershed District.

"It is possible, even reasonable, to assume many observations occurred for Little Detroit, which tends to freeze and thaw earlier than Big Detroit," he said in his notes. "Modern readings are probably more consistent, and are based upon Big Detroit."

It's a sign of spring, though.

"It's great, it's almost time for fishing," said Shari Korte of Ogema, who was on the Detroit Lakes beach Tuesday letting her grandkids run off some energy before heading to the movie theater.