Manitoba·Photos

Nature sculpts 'ethereal' 3-metre-high icescapes on Lake Winnipeg shores

Crystalline three-metre-tall ice formations are drawing crowds of visitors to the shores of Winnipeg Beach, Man., this January.

Sightseers flock to Winnipeg Beach after unusual weather polishes massive ice boulders into fantastic shapes

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      Crystalline three-metre-tall ice formations are drawing crowds of visitors to the shores of Lake Winnipeg this January.

      Winnipeg Beach Mayor Tony Pimentel said in the 30 years he's lived in the Manitoba community, he has never seen shores so chock full of impressive ice formations in January.

      "We've had a lot more people come out and look at these things," Pimentel said.

      Following a record-breaking warm November in southern ManitobaPimentel said ice on Lake Winnipeg finally began to freeze in December.

      The first week of December saw two days of strong northeast winds batter the chilly water up against the sand. As the water lapped up on shore and froze, it turned into slush. It began piling up and solidified as the month continued.

      The tiny outline of a person stands atop the ice walls on normally flat Winnipeg Beach. (Roger Rempel)

      Unseasonably warm weather swept through again last week and polished what were jagged ice ridges into glassy, picturesque boulders.

      'Unusual sight'

      "These have generated a bit of attention," environmental engineer and photographer Roger Rempel said.

      "Especially in black and white, there's very little that you could shoot that would be more dramatic than that stuff."

      Rempel lives in Winnipeg but decided to make a day trip 70 kilometres north to Winnipeg Beach Sunday after hearing about the ice formations in the beachfront community. 

      Roger Rempel says the fog created 'ethereal' conditions that are great for black and white photography. (Roger Rempel)

      He wasn't the only one.

      "There were a lot of other people walking around, a lot of photographers, a lot of children and their parents walking around exploring the ice," Rempel said. "It's pretty cool stuff to walk around, kids climbing on it. It's an unusual sight."

      He and his wife own a cottage on the east shore of Lake Winnipeg. He's used to seeing three-metre-tall ice walls pushed up against shorelines on his side of the lake in the spring, but never in the middle of winter.

      The formations have taken on all sorts of different shapes. Photographer Roger Rempel describes this one as a "mushroom cloud." (Roger Rempel)

      Rempel has lived in Manitoba his entire life and can't remember a January as warm as this one.

      "The conditions [Sunday] added to the mystique of it," said Rempel, who is also the director of climate risk decision support for Ottawa-based science consultancy Risk Sciences International.

      "There was a very ethereal feel to the place."

      Temperatures hit 1.2 C Sunday in Gimli, just north of Winnipeg Beach, and a fog advisory was issued. An average monthly high of –12 C and overnight lows of –22 C are normal for the area in January, CBC Manitoba meteorologist John Sauder said.

      Ice clings to the side of metal and concrete structures along the shore of Lake Winnipeg. (Roger Rempel)

      "It's a very unique combination of weather conditions and timing," said Sauder, adding at least three millimetres of rain fell in southern Manitoba over Friday night.

      As rain fell during a warm spell last week, the water melted and smoothed ridged boulders of ice into drooping frozen waves, "mushroom clouds" and a range of other shapes, Rempel said.

      Ice walls and chunks are common along the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the spring, but the formations this winter are something Winnipeg Beach Mayor Tony Pimentel says he has never seen in the 30 years he has lived in the community. (Roger Rempel)

      The mayor said the icy walls are still there and he invites people from out of town to visit. 

      But for kids (or playful adults) whose first instinct is to run and jump across the ice, Sauder warned there could be open water near shore and thin ice that could pose a safety risk.

      Water spills off the edge of an ice boulder into a pool of water. Warm weather combined with rain to smooth out the jagged formations. (Roger Rempel)

      About the Author

      Bryce Hoye

      Reporter

      Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.