AUBURN — The signs are all there. The ice is growing darker by the hour. It’s receding from the shoreline. The outlet along Route 4 has opened and there is nothing but warmth in the forecast through the weekend.
Could it be? Could the ice go out in Lake Auburn in mid-March, shattering all of the records since such things were tracked?
There are some who dare to believe.
“It looks like it’s going to go out pretty soon,” Mary Jane Dillingham said Thursday. “It’s looking pretty dark out there. I think it will go out by the weekend.” Dillingham is water quality manager at the Auburn Water District.
If you look at the grid charting ice-outs at Lake Auburn since 1874, you will see many numbers and dates. What you won’t see is the word “March” listed very often.
“It happened on March 30 in 1981,” Dillingham said. “The only other March date I have is March 31, and that was in 2006.”
Most ice-outs — that special time when one can navigate unimpeded from one end of the lake to the other — have occurred in April. It usually happens around the middle of the month.
But this has not been an ordinary winter. Warm temperatures brought rain instead of snow. In recent days, it has been freakishly warm, in the high 50s or even higher.
It’s like time travel.
“We’re seeing conditions we normally see in mid-April,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Jim Hayes. “In that sense, we’re about a month ahead.”
Each year, ice-out is like a grand sign of the true change of seasons, from bleak winter to bright spring.
But for some, a lake clear of ice is more than just symbolism.
“The fishermen will be excited if the ice is out before April 1,” Dillingham said. “I’m already getting calls from them. They want to know if the boat launch will be open.”
Fishing season opens on April Fool’s Day.
When you get right down to it, ice-out is about fishing more than anything else. All of the indications of impending ice-out — the darker ice, the clearing of the outlet — are things anglers, more than anyone else, watch closely.
“It’s sort of the fisherman’s formula,” Dillingham said.
The ice in the outlet went out last weekend. That’s a big sign. Whether or not the rest of the lake follows depends largely on the coming weather.
And things look good. Almost too good for what is still technically winter.
“Temperatures for the most part will be in the mid-50s and low 60s,” Hayes said. “It will remain above freezing at night.”
Wind would help the big melt, Dillingham said, but Hayes said there would not be much of that into the weekend.
Lake Auburn will almost certainly set a new record for ice-out, but it won’t be the first in the state to be free and clear. According to Maine Lake Charts, the ice is already out at Sabattus Pond and Highland Lake in Windham. Ice was all but gone at Cobbosseecontee Lake in the Monmouth area.