Short Winter Freeze Raises Alarm on Climate Change Impact on Local Lakes

White Bear Lake, MN

White Bear Lake, a local treasure, has recently experienced an alarming phenomenon––a record-breaking short winter’s freeze. Ice-out was declared on March 8, thus giving the lake only 50 days of winter ice cover. This is not an isolated incident but a trend observed in all twenty lakes monitored in Ramsey and Washington County. These early ice-outs are a stark and urgent reminder of the local impact of climate change.

As Minnesotans, we know firsthand how these changes in the length and quality of ice cover impact our lives. A shortened winter ice season on area lakes means fewer opportunities for us to enjoy time spent ice skating, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.

According to citizen monitoring, White Bear Lake experienced an ice-in on January 18, 2024. This late ice-in, combined with warmer-than-usual temperatures in late January, forced organizers of the White Bear Lake BEARy Open Golf Tournament, an annual fundraiser for the White Bear Area Food Shelf, to cancel their early February event due to unsafe ice. The cancellation of ice-fishing tournaments and ice-based fundraisers further underscores the personal impact of climate change on our activities. 

According to Dr. Catherine O’Reilly, a Professor in the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment at Illinois State University, these changes in ice-on and ice-out are not isolated incidents. She warns, “Around the Northern Hemisphere, ice-out is now occurring 45 days earlier. Winter is the fastest warming season with our new climate, so it starts later and ends earlier. The longer ice-free season gives the lake more time to warm up, so most likely, the water temperatures of White Bear Lake are warmer now than they were in the past. Warmer water means that even more time is needed to cool the water to freezing.” 

So, what can Ramsey and Washington counties’ residents do to impact these well-loved natural resources positively? 

Professor O’Reilly highlights local communities’ role in mitigating climate change’s effects on White Bear Lake and the smaller lakes in the area. She advises, “Your efforts to reduce fertilizer use on lawns, protect the shoreline from erosion, and reduce runoff from urban streets and other areas will significantly contribute to keeping the lake as clean as possible, giving it the best chance of being resistant to climate warming impacts.” 

Local citizens can take action to preserve our natural resources by supporting elected officials who advocate for local ordinances that protect our beautiful lakes.