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This article was published 5/12/2016 (984 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The warmest November on record for the majority of Manitoba has kept Lake Winnipeg fishers off the lake in December for the first time in at least 55 years.
Ivan Grimolfson has spent 50 years as a fisher on the lake, focused in the Hecla area, and told the Free Press never in his career has the lake not frozen over by December.
"We’re usually on the water by the middle of November and I have never seen it (the lake) open like this on Dec. 1," Grimolfson told the Free Press last week.
"Everything is changing."
The fishing season ends at the beginning of November and under provincial law, fish cannot be caught unless they come from the under the ice. Grimolfson said he is hopeful the coming cold snap will freeze the lake soon, giving fishers a chance to make up the time lost.
In Winnipeg, November’s average temperature was 3.2 C. Normal average temperatures for November range from -8.5 C to -1.3 C. Before this year, the last time November was nearly this warm was in 1899 when the average temperature was 1.3 C. In and around the Gimli area, the average temperature was 2.9 C — giving fishers no choice but to dock their boats until the water freezes over.
University of Winnipeg biologist Eva Pipp has been studying Lake Winnipeg since 1961 and said she has never seen the lake remain unfrozen this late in the year. She fears this will become the new norm in Manitoba.
"Normally we would have already seen it freeze in mid-November," she said. "There were some years that it would be even earlier than that... this is generally what we are seeing with climate change, this is probably going to be a trend."
The late freeze is a both good and bad for the health of Lake Winnipeg, she explained. On one hand, the longer the lake is not frozen, the more time organisms in the lake can feed off the nutrients and oxygen in the lake.
"So the later that is freezes, the better it is for all the things that live in there," she said.
On the flipside, warm temperatures are also the perfect breeding ground for invasive species such as zebra mussels and their more dangerous cousin, quagga mussels
"There are pluses and minuses, when you have this moderating of conditions that they become less extreme, you also have the capability for invasive species. It makes it easier for them," she said. "They have usually come from places that are warmer than here, which is why a lot of them haven’t been able to get a good foothold. Once the conditions become more optimal for them, that allows them to take over the ecosystem."
Lake Winnipeg isn’t the only lake suffering from a late freeze. On Sunday, the body of a Nelson House teacher David MacDonald was found after he left on a snowmobile to a nearby cabin on Thursday. Nelson House RCMP said on Sunday that a preliminary investigation determined MacDonald broke through the ice on his snowmobile.
Nelson House Chief Marcel Moody told the Free Press the ice was unusually thin this year and at some spots was less than five centimetres thick. Nelson House is about 850 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
There are over 2,200 kilometres of winter roads in the province that rely on cold temperatures and frozen lakes in order to be constructed each year. Provincial officials say the warmer-than-average temperatures have delayed their normal progress on winter road development by seven to 10 days
Officials with the province’s Infrastructure Department said they cannot predict when temperatures will allow for lakes around Manitoba to freeze.
"Lake freezing depends on the size, depth and location of the lake, sustained freezing temperatures and wind/wave action. It is difficult to predict," said a provincial spokesman in a prepared statement. "At this time of year and until an extended period of cold weather, people should be cautious around lakes and rivers."
Environment Canada meteorologist Natalie Hasell said the cold snap heading across Manitoba — which will see temperatures hover between -15 C and -20 C across southern Manitoba for the next couple weeks — could help freeze Lake Winnipeg and other lakes.
"It is going to take a while, (but) we do have much cooler temperatures coming," Hasell said.
Updated on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 8:58 PM CST: fixed font
9:02 PM: fixed photo cutline