Rain, 40 degree temps, and poor ice conditions arrive ahead of BWCA trout opener
Kalli Hawkins
Outdoor News

Rain, 40 degree temps, and poor ice conditions arrive ahead of BWCA trout opener

Compared to the previous two years, the winter of 2023-24 is undeniably off to a strange start.

Cook County and many other counties across the state have yet to receive significant snow this winter. Instead, November and December have welcomed widespread rain, gusty winds, and unusually warm weather. 

The warmer and dryer conditions experienced across much of the northern U.S. and Canada are attributed to El Niño, which began in April of 2023, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.) 

The warmer waters cause the Pacific jet stream to move south, creating warmer conditions in the northern regions of North America and wetter conditions in the south. NOAA forecasters estimate a greater than 55 percent chance that El Niño conditions will continue into January-March 2024. 

Although regions in Cook County encountered below-freezing temperatures in late November and early December, leading to favorable ice conditions on numerous inland lakes, the recent rain during the Christmas weekend, coupled with mild temperatures reaching 40 degrees, has reduced ice thickness on many lakes. Concerns have been raised regarding the possibility of unsafe conditions emerging ahead of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) trout opener on Dec. 30.

A local conservation officer in Tofte Kylan Hill said in his recent report, “With warm and wet weather in the forecast, don’t be afraid to change your plans for the BWCA trout opener if conditions are unsafe.”

On Dec. 28, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced in a press release, “While the week between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays has become popular among the owners of deluxe fish houses, conditions so far this winter mean few if any, areas of the state have the ice thickness necessary for these types of ice structures.”

Many DNR conservation officers, primarily in the Upper Red Lake and north of the Duluth area, have recently responded to instances of fish houses and recreational vehicles falling through the ice due to diminishing ice conditions. 

Many community members and Gunflint Trail lodge owners have ventured out on many lakes recently to provide ice reports ahead of the BWCA trout opener on Dec. 30. 

Owner of Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters, Andy McDonnell, posted on the lodge’s Facebook page on Dec. 28 showing Duncan Lake inside the BWCA with approximately 5-6 in. of ice. In the video, he said, “But don’t take my word for it, definitely have your ice picks and test the ice if you’re going to fish because yeah, it’s just been weird.” 

On Dec. 28, WTIP spoke with Cory Rothstein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth, about the forecast for the remainder of Dec. and the start of the New Year. Rothstein said if Grand Marais keeps with the current temperature forecast for the remainder of Dec., “We’d be second all-time in terms of average temperature.”

“1913 would be the only year that would beat us,” he said. 

WTIP talks to Cory Rothstein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth. Audio below.