After endless winter, Sebago’s ice finally out

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Sebago Lake officially iced out for the season on Wednesday, April 22, according to state officials.

This year’s ice-out, defined as the point at which a lake can be navigated unimpeded from one end to the other, is the latest since 2007, when ice-out occurred on April 23, according to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The department keeps records stretching back to the spring of 2003, when Sebago Lake iced out on April 24. Last year, ice-out occurred on April 20. In 2010, 2012, and 2013, Sebago Lake’s Big Bay did not freeze solid, according to the state and local ice-out observers.

Carroll Cutting, the owner of Jordan’s Store in Sebago since 1958 and an avid ice-out record keeper since 1989, said the Big Bay of the lake lost its ice April 15, while Jordan and Lower bays remained frozen over for a few days after.

Last year, Cutting said, Big Bay iced out on April 14, while in 2011 it iced out on April 12 and in 2009 it iced out on April 9. According to informal ice-out records maintained by Cutting, the Big Bay has iced out in early May numerous times since 1807, with the bulk of the May ice-out dates occurring in the 19th century.

“This past winter has been real cold and we’ve had considerable ice in the lake,” Cutting said. “Due to the snow that we had, it didn’t get as deep in the Big Bay as it normally would because the snow insulated what ice was there, but we still had around a foot and a half in the Big Bay. In the Lower Bay they had 30 inches of ice. At Jordan Bay, same thing.”

According to Cutting, three days of westerly winds blew the ice out of the Big Bay this year.

Rain and wind typically provide the knockout blow to Sebago Lake’s ice cover, said Francis Brautigam, regional fisheries biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife who covers the Sebago Lake area and has become familiar with the science of how ice melts in a lake.

“It’s a function of sun angle, it’s a function of air temperature, it’s also a function of wind conditions, and I guess precipitation obviously plays a role,” Brautigam said. “All four of those factors influence the ability of ice to remain as ice.”

Ice along the shoreline often melts first, as the sun warms the shallow waters, Brautigam said.

“A lot of the sunlight that’s able to penetrate down into the ice comes into contact with the bottom of the lake, which along the shoreline is quite shallow, so that sunlight basically is causing the bottom substrate and the shoreline to warm up and that warmth is also helping to melt that rim ice,” he said.

Warmer water, in the form of melting snow and rain, will help thaw the ice, as well, Brautigam said. Warm water rising from groundwater spring holes in the bottom of the lake will also begin to melt the ice, he said.

According to Cutting, the ice will often melt like a “honeycomb.” Brautigam said that’s because of the nature of ice formation on large lakes, which consists of “thousands and thousands of small chunks of ice that fuse together.”

“It’s like a honeycomb, because on a lake the size of Sebago ice forms in sections or pieces and that’s how it’s fused,” Brautigam said. “When it melts it sort of works in the opposite direction. Those seam lines tend to meet where the ice chunks are formed.”

These various processes constitute “ice-out,” according to Brautigam.

“You have pressure ridges, you have some of these ice fishing holes, you have these spring holes, you have this shoreline erosion,” he said. “You have this complex joining of all these different pieces of ice and all of that collectively contributes to ice melting.”

To Brautigam, ice-out on Sebago Lake has been inconsistent in recent years.

“It seems like it’s been pretty highly variable in the last six or eight years,” he said. “Some years we’ve had exceptionally early springs, much earlier than usual. And this year we’re probably closer to what normal might be.”

According to Cutting’s son, Greg, ice-out, which determines the beginning of the open-water fishing season on Sebago Lake, has been a hot topic of conversation at Jordan’s in recent weeks. In particular, customers like to look at Carroll Cutting’s Big Bay ice-out date sheet, which contains his personal records since 1989, as well as records culled from newspaper archives stretching back all the way to 1807.

“Anyone’s got a question about ice-out, they call here,” said Greg Cutting. “I don’t know how many phone calls I’ve gotten just today on ice-out because they want to come up and go fishing. It’s a topic of conversation. Then we pull the sheet out, because we always argue about what it was last year and what it was this year, and then we pull out the sheet and it settles the argument.”

Leslie Barrett and Carroll Cutting of Jordan’s Store in Sebago have compiled a list of Big Bay ice out dates stretching back to 1807. The two walk along Long Beach in Sebago after ice-out last week. Staff photo by Ezra Silk

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