CLEVELAND, Ohio — Lake Erie rose 5 inches in January. By the end of the month, lake levels were 7 inches above last January’s. And by Monday, the lake broke the February high water record, set in 1987.
The latest water forecast from the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers predicts Lake Erie will break monthly records for the next four months before leveling off in June and July. Levels should be 2-11 inches higher than they were last year.
Last year, boaters and beach goers throughout the Great Lakes were plagued by high water. Beaches and docks disappeared, roads and bike paths washed out, and at least one cottage collapsed into the water.
Erosion is made worse by the lack of ice this winter. As of Monday, only .4 percent of Lake Erie had ice, compared to the average of 67 percent on Feb. 10. No ice means more waves pounding the shore all winter long, eroding away cliffs, washing out beaches and damaging shoreline infrastructure.
Lake Erie on Monday was 573.8 feet above sea level — 35 inches above normal. The all-time record, set last June, is 574.3.
One reason for the increase in lake levels is rain: the Lake Erie basin had 2.78 inches of precipitation last month, about 112 percent of normal.
Because temperatures are above normal, more precipitation fell as rain instead of snow, according to the U.S. Army Corps. “This phenomenon, in addition to increased snowmelt, contributed to considerably above normal runoff to all of the Great Lakes.”
All of the Great Lakes are high. About 92 percent of the water in Lake Erie comes from the upper lakes, through Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, into Lake Erie. And the upper lakes — Superior, Huron and Michigan — all hit record monthly highs in January.
Lake Erie then flows into the Niagara River, into Lake Ontario. The International Joint Commission can control outflow in the Great Lakes only from Superior and Ontario. But the impact is very small.