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Surging Lake Erie waters hit highest level in 20 years

The months of rain and snow melting into Lake Erie has swelled its water level to the highest level since 1998, and a U.S. Corps of Engineers' forecast released Monday projects the lake will remain 4 to 9 inches above average through November.

On the U.S. and Canadian shores, beaches are disappearing, piers are rising and shoreline walkways are swamped by water.

“It’s pretty evident the water levels are the highest they’ve been in 20 years,” said Wayne Redekop, the mayor of Fort Erie, Ont.

But unlike the damage caused by high Lake Ontario water levels, no major damage has been reported along Lake Erie’s New York or Canadian shorelines.

“So far, we are not aware of any damage along the waterfront,” Redekop said.

Redekop confirmed, however, that higher lake waters are lapping over the walkway to the Point Abino lighthouse.

Beach disappears, bank erodes as Lake Ontario keeps rising

As of this week, Lake Erie is about 6 inches from reaching its all-time record. Lake Erie’s average water level in May was 573.56 feet above sea level, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data. That’s more than 1½ feet above average.

Through the end of May, Buffalo has recorded its second-wettest start to the year on record, dating back to 1870, with more than 22 inches of total precipitation. The rainfall over the lake and its watershed has pushed up the water level.

The highest monthly water level in Lake Erie’s history came in June 1986. It was 574.28 feet above sea level.

In other spots farther west, officials report damage. Near Cleveland, high April winds pushed surging Lake Erie waters in an Eastlake, Ohio, neighborhood and flooded it, according to media reports there. Officials also report erosion causing problems at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pa.

The beauty of high winds on Lake Erie

The Army Corps of Engineers data shows water levels on all of the Great Lakes have risen.

“It shows all of the lakes peaking this year higher than last year’s levels,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, a Corps of Engineers hydrology chief. “We’re higher than average on all of the lakes. That’s the result of the weather pattern."

Lake Ontario’s water reached its highest level last month.

“When Lake Erie is higher, the outfall to Lake Ontario will be higher because there’s no control structure there,” Kompoltowicz said.

Stunning photos of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, flooding

The International Joint Commission reported water levels across all of the Great Lakes are expected to remain above average. Higher water levels have forecasters at the National Weather Service on alert.

The weather service frequently issues lakeshore flood warnings for Niagara, Orleans and Monroe counties on Lake Ontario, as it did again Monday. Similar statements have been rare for Lake Erie as of late but any strong southwest wind combined with the higher lake levels could make them necessary.

High lake levels batter Olcott at one end, Montreal on the other

“We know what the lake level has to be in order to flood,” said Bob Hamilton, a weather service meteorologist. “We know we need 10 feet.”

Hamilton said the weather service relies on the Army Corps’ reports on water levels. Its most recent report showed Lake Erie at five feet above its chart datum.

“All we need is wave heights of five feet to get to 10 feet (and flooding),” Hamilton said.

Lake Erie's water levels  (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

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