Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ice age returns to Hayden Lake

A duck walks on a layer of ice Tuesday on Hayden Lake. The region's big lakes haven't seen ice in a decade or more. 
 (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

For the first time in at least seven years – some believe 16 years – ice is capping large expanses of Hayden Lake.

Larger lakes such as Pend Oreille and Coeur d’Alene remain mostly open water, though. With the cold snap coming to an end, longtime observers say it’s doubtful either one will freeze over this season.

Although ice commonly covers the region’s smaller lakes this time of year – Liberty Lake was turned into a massive hockey rink over the weekend and Lake Cocolalla was dotted with its usual makeshift village of ice anglers – it’s rare to see the vast sheets that once were fairly common atop the big lakes, said Gerry House, who lives along Hayden Lake and whose grandparents homesteaded in the area.

“It brings back some memories,” House said of the white ice sheet that has been covering much of the wide, southern expanse of the lake since Sunday.

The ice is believed to be less than 3 inches thick and appears to be loaded with fault lines, which means only someone with a death wish should venture on it now. The lake’s shallower, northern bays, however, have thicker ice.

In the 1950s, House recalls people regularly driving across the lake, though not always without trouble. His uncle once put a hay truck through the ice near Clark Point.

“A lot of people would commute up and down the lake,” he said.

The National Weather Service doesn’t keep track of local lake ice, but House thinks the last time the lake iced over completely was 1991. “It’s just not common anymore,” he said.

Other weather watchers say North Idaho’s big lakes would usually freeze solid once or twice a decade.

Warmer weather could soon cause Hayden’s nascent ice cap to disappear. Highs by this weekend are expected to be near the freezing point, said Jonathan Fox, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane.

Despite the weeklong cold snap, Fox said the region has had fairly normal temperatures this winter. But Coeur d’Alene and Spokane have had huge differences in snowfall.

About 43 inches have fallen in Coeur d’Alene, nearly 10 inches above average for this point in winter.

Spokane, meanwhile, has had 18 inches of snow – about 10 inches less than normal, Fox said.