Wind drives the water away

SANDUSKY It's that time of the year again. Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay levels are down, but sho
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



It's that time of the year again.  Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay levels are down, but shouldn't cause too much concern, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

"In the fall, the levels are generally lower because of all the evaporation over the summer," said Steve Holland, Federal Consistency Coordinator for ODNR.

During March, April, May and June, water levels rise because ice is thawing. By the middle of July, water levels peak and begin to decline again because of evaporation.

The area is also going through what experts call a seiche, when wind blows water to one end of the lake. Dave Kelch, extension specialist with the OSU Ohio Sea Grant program, compares it to a teeter-totter.

"You can probably see the bottom of Sandusky Bay," he said. "Lake Erie (water level) actually tilts when we get a lot of strong wind. I bet if you called down to Buffalo, N.Y., there'd be water in the streets."

According to the Web site for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, water levels at Buffalo peaked at noon Tuesday at about five feet above low-water datum, a baseline measurement for lake levels. At the same time, water levels at Marblehead were about 2 1/2 feet below the same baseline. By noon Thursday, the situation was reversing, with Buffalo's lake levels dropping to 15-20 inches above datum and Marblehead's water levels heading to 5-15 inches above.

Kelch said the water level in Lake Erie is at the same level it was last year, even though it may look much lower.

"This is not something that doesn't happen on a frequent basis," he said. "It happens, just a lot of times we don't notice because it's not as obvious as it is now."

The U.S. Coast Guard, however, had to move two of its boats from Marblehead to the Jackson Street Pier in Sandusky, something they haven't had to do in years. Also in the bay, a wrecked freighter whose frame has remained where it was since it burned to the waterline in the 1930s was revealed as water levels dropped.

"It's a rarity. Due to the gale winds and the way the wind was blowing, it blew all the water out of our Bay," said Melissa Cox, Coast Guard seaman. "The winds were so fierce, it dropped rapidly."

Though the water is at the same level as it was this time last year, Kelch said it has been dropping over time. The water level in Lake Erie is more than 3 feet lower than it was in 1986.

Editorial Page Editor Don Lee contributed to this story.