August 28, 2014

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Lake Erie levels expected to stabilize

Experts mentioned that recent weather could cause flooding from Lake Erie. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Experts mentioned that recent weather could cause flooding from Lake Erie. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Lake Erie could create flooding concerns this spring, but experts at the Army Corps of Engineers predict that the lake’s water levels will remain close to the historic average.

The Army Corps of Engineers released its latest water level report Tuesday. The information contained the latest forecast of water levels for the Great Lakes and the current Great Lakes basin conditions.

Record cold temperatures, near-record ice cover and record-breaking snowfall are impacting water levels, with the possibility of significantly above-average seasonal rises for the second consecutive year.

Lake Superior is seeing a rise in water levels, but Lake Erie should see no real change, said Keith Kempoltowicz, chief of the watershed hydrology branch of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army Corps took measurements of the surface of the lake above sea level in Toledo, Cleveland, Port Stanley and Port Colborne. Those measurements were compiled into a mean water level.

Lake Erie’s level was recorded at 570.69 feet, slightly above the average last year but below the long-term average of water levels from 1918 to 2013. Kempoltowicz said Lake Erie experienced no seasonal rise in 2012 and a decline in water level for several months. Since then, in 2013, the water level began to rise. Such a rise in water level could affect recreational boating and access to beach areas.

Although water levels are expected to remain generally unchanged, flooding could be a concern if the ice covering Lake Erie melts quickly, said George Leshkevich, a Great Lakes environmental researcher.

Leshkevich said Lake Erie is about 96 percent covered by ice, and if the ice melts quickly, it could lead to ice jams. Runoff could also be a concern if there is heavy rainfall, he said.

The city of Vermilion recently experienced massive ice jams in the river near Mill Hollow, leading to flooding around Riverside Drive and West River Road. Those residents were evacuated during the floods at the end of February.

Kempoltowicz said the ice coverage on Lake Erie is not record-breaking — it has neared 100 percent coverage in the past — but the ice could create navigational problems.

“The ice has proven to be very challenging in the western basin of Lake Erie,” he said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.

Lake Erie Water Levels (feet)*

*Measurements are the elevation of the surface of the lake above sea level
Date, daily mean:

  • March 1, 570.68
  • March 2, 570.72
  • March 3, 570.70
  • March 4, 570.67
  • Mean 570.69

Historic Water Levels of Lake Erie

  • Avg. Last Month: 570.66
  • Avg. Last Year: 570.60
  • Minimum: 568.24 (1934)
  • Maximum: 573.75 (1986)
  • Long Term Avg.**: 571.10

*Mean levels are calculated by averaging the best available gage data at report generation and are subject to change.
**Period of Record 1918-2013

The United States Army Corps of Engineers collects and disseminates the water level data in cooperation with NOAA and the Canadian Hydrographic Service. All data are provisional and are referenced to IGLD 1985.