While it might be clear Madison is seeing one of the coldest winters in decades, few can fathom just how how thick the ice over lakes Mendota and Menona is this year.
According to Dane County Water Resources Planner Pete Jopke, the ice on lake Mendota is currently 20 inches thick which is double the normal thickness. He said typically the ice only reaches from 10 to 12 inches in thickness.
“Within recent memory I have not noticed the ice being as thick as it is this year,” Jopke said. “I have been fishing on Mendota for years and I have never seen it this thick.”
Jopke said the unusual depth of ice is directly related to this year’s cold weather. It has been an exceptionally cold winter, he said, the coldest one in 25 years.
Jopke said he is unsure if this extreme ice thickness is a one-time occurrence, or if it foreshadows how the lakes will look in future years.
“Nobody can really accurately predict the weather in my opinion,” Jopke said. “You can look at long term trends but every once in a while you get a year that is an anomaly and this year the freezing started way earlier and has lasted a lot longer. It is a crazy start to 2014.”
Jopke said despite the consistently below zero temperatures, the thick ice allows for more recreational activity on the lake this year than in years past.
As an avid ice fisher himself, he said the ice has been great everywhere he has fished. He added that he has been able to travel easily across the lake on his ATV.
“The lake has been great for travel and recreational activities,” Jopke said. “The fishing has also been phenomenal this year. It has been the best since 2000 for me.”
Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said the extremely low temperatures and wind have made recreational activities on the lake more difficult this year. However, he said this has not stopped people from braving the ice.
He said he has still seen many people out on the lake cross country skiing, ice fishing or playing pond hockey on the thick ice.
“There is a very thick layer of ice over the water at this point so vehicles can travel over the ice safely,” Resnick said. “Having said that, it is still important for individuals to check what the thickness of the lake is at. As it gets warmer, it is important to know that information before going out on the ice.”
Jopke said even though the lakes are covered with such a thick layer of ice right now, the melting of the ice in the spring will be weather dependent, and often has a lot to do with how much it rains in the early spring. He added that the ice on the lakes in Madison typically melts in March or early April.