MPCA, DNR: Minnesota’s lake ice season decreased by up to 14 days due to climate change

Contact: Kevin Gaffney, 612-414-6139

Climate change is chipping away at Minnesota’s winter ice, according to new data released today by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR). On average, the state has lost 10 to 14 days of lake ice over the past 50 years, with some popular, iconic lakes losing almost three weeks of ice — impacting lake and fish health, outdoor sports enthusiasts, and business owners.

Since 1967, ice-in dates have been about nine days later on average, while ice-out dates have been about four to five days earlier. That means two weeks of lost ice coverage for ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and other winter activities on Minnesota lakes. Each year, Minnesotans and visitors spend millions of dollars on winter recreation and a shortened lake ice season threatens the revenue of businesses that support these cold-weather traditions.

“Shorter lake ice seasons, caused by climate change, are threatening some of Minnesota’s most cherished traditions,” said MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler. “We must take bold action to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change — for the sake of our lakes, our economy, and to save winters as we know them in our state.”

The average loss of ice duration on popular lakes for winter recreation include:

  • Lake Bemidji, Beltrami County: -18.9 days
  • Lake Waconia, Carver County: -14.8 days
  • Lake Itasca, Clearwater County: -14.0 days
  • Lake Washington, Blue Earth and Le Sueur County:  -13.7 days
  • Detroit Lake, Becker County: -9.5 days

*Ice seasons and data vary year to year; the above data reflect averages.

Compared to 50 years ago, the average July-August surface water temperatures on Minnesota lakes are 3.0 – 3.9 degrees warmer. This rise has serious ramifications for our natural lake habitats. Aside from causing shorter ice seasons, rising water temperatures contribute to increasing reports of toxic blue-green algae blooms, which thrive in temperatures 75 degrees and warmer. Additionally, temperature is a driving force in every aspect of the health of our fish populations, including reproduction, growth, and survival. DNR has tracked trends for many fish species over the last 30 years and found that numbers are clearly changing, with declines in some important cold-water species.

“Minnesota’s ice data reflects the changes that Minnesotans who enjoy our outdoors have already felt,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen. “As water and air temperatures continue to rise, we can expect to see more shifts in our native fish species, lake health, and winter recreation. DNR and MPCA have been working on climate strategies, but we know further bold action is needed to mitigate the effect of climate change and help preserve the valuable resources that make Minnesota an enviable place to live.”

Learn more about forward-thinking initiatives and policies led by state agencies to help communities across Minnesota prepare for and adapt to climate change.