Written by Algis Martsoo for Looduskalender.ee
Soomaa has nearly 2000 hectares of water meadows. Unfortunately we don’t know precisely how many of them are ice-covered – at least half or 1000 hectares are surely under ice after the present winter floods.
The flood ice has formed not only in the water meadows but also in forests and even in some farm yards.
The flooding started in Soomaa actually after Christmas. Before that the water level in rivers had already risen to a quite high level due to the autumn rains. During Christmas we enjoyed a snowy Estonian winter. Viljandimaa had the thickest snow cover – the thaw weather that started around the turn of the year caused quite large floods in Soomaa. The January frosts put a lid on the high water turning them into ice fields.
The largest flooded area that freezes to an ice field is at the Halliste river, both upstream and downstream from the tower in the Tõramaa wooded meadow. There a sufficiently thick and strong ice cover has formed which the present unstable winter cannot melt. Soomaa has of course more ice-covered meadows but no other has such stable ice. To the tower and the ice field only one road leads; it is a couple of kilometres long and renovated by RMK; from other directions there is no access. Both upstream and downstream from the tower it is possible to skate or go by kick sledge about 5 kilometres – that means that the total length of the ice field is nearly 10 km. The width varies from a few hundred metres to 1,5 kilometres. For skating and going by kick sledge there is truly plenty of space. Skating upstream is particularly good.
But in the middle of the ice field the Halliste River also flows, plus one canalized river stretch – the Suur Kraav (Large ditch). While old Halliste River eventually freezes over, the channel takes longer time. There the flow is fast and the channel freezes only when the water level has decreased significantly and the flow has become slower. The creeks that flow out into the river require attention but they freeze quite nicely. The ice field is sufficiently large, it would be foolish to risk going into new and old riverbeds.
I have researched the Soomaa floods more thoroughly and find that in fact January floods are nothing remarkable. To the autumn high water the first thaw water from melting snow is added in the beginning of winter which together cause the floods in the beginning of January in Soomaa. These expanses of ice are rather unknown compared to the springtime floods. The fact is that this ice cover can seldom be seen because it generally becomes covered with snow and the ice that forms is not always thick enough to move on it. To enjoy the present view, cold weather with minus degrees must arrive precisely when the water is still rising and at the same time a snowfall should not occur. If frost arrives when the water is already receding then a thick ice will not form in the water meadows; the ice cover forms later on the river.
We rarely see such expanses of ice in Soomaa.
Both skating and kick sledge tours are arranged in Soomaa.