• Water levels on both Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair climbed 21 cm over the month of January.
• Current water levels on the lakes exceed their record January, February, and March monthly averages.
• Increased risk of shoreline flooding on both lakes compared to the last four months.
• Risk of erosion and damage to shoreline protection works on both lakes
• Moderate to strong sustained winds and/or heavy rains could cause flooding, erosion and shoreline damage
Daily average water levels on Lake Erie peaked last year on June 22nd at an elevation of 175.19 m (I.G.L.D.). By December 31st, they had fallen back to 174.64 m. However, water levels started to rise again at the beginning of January and have now climbed back up to 174.92 m. Current water levels on the lake exceed their all-time monthly average records for January, February, and March set back in the 1980s. Current water levels are similar to what were observed in late April or early September of last year. Current forecasts are predicting this rise in lake levels will flatten out over the month of February but they are not expected to drop. Long range forecasts, which could be significantly impacted by spring weather conditions, predict peak water levels this summer to be similar to those last year.
Daily average water levels on Lake St. Clair peaked last year on July 7/8th at an elevation of 176.08 m (I.G.L.D.). By December 31st, they had fallen back to 175.61 m. However, water levels started to rise again at the beginning of January and have now climbed back up to 175.86 m. Current water levels on the lake exceed their all-time monthly average records for January, February, March and April set back in the 1980s. Current water levels are similar to what were observed in late April or early September of last year. Current forecasts are predicting this rise in lake levels to flatten out over the month of February but they are not expected to drop. Long range forecasts, which could be significantly impacted by spring weather conditions, predict peak water levels this summer to be similar to those last year.
In addition to the high lake levels, the lakes have not frozen over this year which has allowed continued wave spray type flooding throughout the winter. Although temperatures may drop enough in February to put ice on the lakes, it seems unlikely that the lakes can accumulate enough ice thickness to prevent shoreline flooding and erosion from a significant wind event.
The January rise in lake levels has increased the risk of shoreline flooding as compared to the last four months when water levels had been dropping. There also continues to be a risk of shoreline erosion and damage to shoreline protection works.
Strong sustained winds can lead to water level changes and waves that cause shoreline issues. Strong winds out of any direction could have an impact on some area along our local shorelines. In the most vulnerable areas such as Erie Shore Drive in Chatham-Kent wave spray related flooding can occur at wind speeds as low as 30 km/hr, while other less vulnerable areas may need wind speeds closer to 45 km/hr. Gale force winds of 60 km/hr would be expected to cause significant flooding to any low lying shoreline area. The areas most frequently impacted and the relevant wind direction include: Lighthouse Cove when winds are out of the north or west; Erie Shore Drive when winds are out of the south (WSW through ESE); the bay side of Erieau when winds are out of the east or north; Shrewsbury when winds are out of the east (NNE through ESE); and Rose Beach Line when winds are out of the east (NNE through S). Of course, other shoreline areas are also susceptible. The bluff areas all along the Lake Erie shoreline are also at a greater risk of erosion due to the high lake levels, especially when there are onshore winds and waves. Along the bluffs, the erosion can cause the bluffs to fail and there have been instances of land many metres deep falling into the lake all at one time.
Heavy rains could also cause flooding in low lying shoreline areas. Due to the high lake levels, the groundwater table is high and storm water sewer systems and local watercourses are full with lake water. As a result, rainwater is not draining properly from these areas. Any water from upstream making its way downstream on these watercourses into these shoreline areas could cause additional flooding.
Shoreline residents need to pay attention as local conditions change and prepare accordingly.
Please contact your local municipality should significant flooding and/or erosion events occur, or should events occur that may impact roadways and other public infrastructure. If there is an imminent risk to personal safety, call 911.
Most importantly, people need to keep themselves safe. Should an event occur, people should take extra caution and avoid the shoreline and any waterways with elevated water levels. The waves on the lakes can be strong, and the shoreline and the banks of waterways can be slippery and unstable. This is especially true in the winter when the wave spray can freeze. There could also be hazardous debris within the waves and water which could be thrown onto the shoreline. Standing water can also present unseen hazards. Children and animals should be kept away from the water.
This is a standing message issued for the month of February. Wind conditions over the lakes can change quickly and with little warning. Should weather forecasts suggest a sustained wind event likely to cause shoreline issues, this message will be upgraded.
Message Contact: Jason Wintermute (519-354-7310 x227) ([email protected])