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Lake Mendota still officially open water

January 8, 2013 By Chris Barncard

Photo: Lake ice

As winter sets in, ice begins to form on the surface water of Lake Mendota at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


Photo: Bryce Richter

Audio: Listen to sounds of Lake Mendota freezing.

This is the time of year Lyle Anderson, office manager at the Wisconsin State Climatology Office, “has a pair of binoculars pinned to his head ’round the clock,” according to John Young, state climatologist and emeritus atmospheric sciences professor.

Photo: Lyle Anderson


It’s Anderson who tracks ice cover on lakes Mendota, Monona and Wingra, and only the latter two have received the official nod as ice-covered for winter 2012-13. Lake Mendota is making a run at last season’s interminably late Jan. 14 ice-over date, though it’s a long way off to the Jan. 30 record (from way back in 1932).

Anderson does his watching not from the top of the AOS building, but from vantage points that make the data a better match with the figures collected all the way back to 1852.

“Sometimes we get a little trouble from people on the Middleton side of the lake, because we call it closed, and they say they see open water,” Anderson says, “But back in the early days of the record, there wouldn’t even have been anybody watching the ice from where those people are.”

Open water makes for beautiful photos of ice along the shoreline, and allows Christopher Bocast to practice his acoustical ecology. Bocast took his recorder and microphones to the lakeshore at about 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 24 to capture the creaking, tinkling and cracking of a fresh freeze.

“Froze a little myself,” Bocast says.

If it looks like a good day to shoot your own photos or roll some tape, Anderson advises jumping on the opportunity.

“On Lake Mendota, the process doesn’t happen gradually,” Anderson says. “Most of the time that freeze comes suddenly, so we have to keep watch on a daily basis.”