Despite what the barren appearance of the extended shoreline of Lake Nipissing would have you believe, water levels are normal for this time of year, according to the North Bay–Mattawa Conservation Authority and Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
How can this be? People have been taking advantage of the "shallow" parts of Lake Nipissing, especially along the Lakeshore Drive corridor for all types of pandemic recreation — including walking, jogging, and bicycling — for weeks.
Sue Buckle of the NBMCA says there is a simple explanation. This year's early ice-out has revealed more of the Lake Nipissing shore than we are used to seeing at this stage of the spring.
"On Lake Nipissing, in particular, it may have appeared to be below normal, but it wasn’t. It’s just that people wouldn’t normally see water levels when the lake is covered with snow and ice," Buckle says. "We don’t have any concerns at this time."
Jolanta Kowalski of the MNRF concurs with NBMCA's assessment.
"Visually, Lake Nipissing appears low, but the current level is typical for this time of year. It is currently 195.39 m, an increase of 6 cm since a week ago. The target level is 195.5 m by the May long weekend.
"In a usual year, the lakes would still be covered in ice and snow. We would typically also expect runoff and snowmelt to be peaking at this time of the year and that is not the case this year either," Kowalski tells BayToday.
Other than the April 8 ice-out date in 2010, this year's April 10 is the earliest recorded since 1946, when the lake was clear, April 4. The record for the earliest recorded ice-out since 1901 came the year before, April 3, 1945.
It has already been over two weeks since this year's ice-out. In six of the last nine years, the ice has not been completely off Lake Nipissing until May. This year is the fifth-earliest ice-out date since recording began in 1901.
Kowalski says below-normal snowfall levels were recorded across the province this past winter and precipitation levels are down from a typical April.
Buckle advises, with the early melt, everything is about a month ahead in the lake/river level cycles. The larger systems, Lake Nipissing and Ottawa River are both considered to be at average levels for late April.
"Rain usually contributes more water to our lakes than snowmelt but it has been an unusually dry season," Kowalski shares. "While we can’t predict the weather, it is still early in the season and we are hoping that we will receive enough rain to make up for the lack of spring run-off."
"We had our peak runoff early this year, back in March," Buckle adds. "When the ice and snow came off the lake earlier than normal, the water level we saw was normal for that time of year." Meanwhile, the smaller systems such as Amable du Fond, Chippewa Creek, LaVase River, and Wasi River "are a little low for this time of year, more like the level we see in June."
The NBMCA and MNRF will continue to monitor water levels and precipitation.
In addition to providing flood forecasting statements, the NBMCA also issues low water advisory statements as warranted.