Lake Ontario Status and 2020 Forecast

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As Spring approaches and with it flood season along Lake Ontario, it makes sense to review recent happening and upcoming predictions for peak flood season.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2019?

During 2019,  the communities around Lake Ontario experienced unprecedented flooding as a result of various weather conditions, with the water levels reaching a maximum height of 249 ft. Especially high flows originated from Lake Erie, which exceeded record high flows by springtime. In addition, the precipitation was above average from fall 2018 through spring 2019 within the Lake Ontario-St Lawrence basin. Lastly, flooding in the Ottawa River (which connects to the St. Lawrence River by Montreal) hit record setting levels for the second time in three years.

In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo launched the REDI program (Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative https://www.governor.ny.gov/programs/lake-ontario-resiliency-and-economic-development-initiative-redi), a multi-agency task force assembled in order to enhance the infrastructure in the affected areas in areas around Lake Ontario. New York State has earmarked up to $300 million in order to tackle current issues and prevent the shoreline from remaining equally vulnerable going forward, though it remains unclear how much of the funds have been distributed for waterfront resiliency projects.

WHATS HAPPENING NOW

Despite record outflows, record high water levels are presently observed in all of the other Great Lakes, which ultimately flow into Lake Ontario due to its low elevation relative to the other Great Lakes. In Lake Ontario, the water levels are just shy of record levels for this time of the season; 1952 and 1973 mark the only other instances of higher recorded water levels.

Commercial shipping traffic was scheduled to commence on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence river on March 20, which would be an unusually early start due to a mild winter. However, commercial shipping will be halted until April 1stas a result of outflows increasing beyond the levels that are safe for ships, which is a response to the near record setting February water levels. This marks the first time since the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in 1959 that the outflows prevent commercial vessels to sail.

WHAT IS EXPECTED TO HAPPEN DURING PEAK SEASON

There is great uncertainty around what the spring and summer holds for the communities along Lake Ontario, but there is a significant chance for water levels to hit critical levels this year. According to the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, the current probability of a “high water event” with water levels at 247.7 feet sits at 50%. This will impact some of the lower lying communities like Sodus Point in Wayne County. It is also estimated that there is a 5% chance that water levels are equal to or surpass 2019’s unprecedented flooding. Weather patterns in the time leading up to spring and summer will be a critical contributing factor.

A proactive approach to the upcoming flood season may save your property, home, business, and possessions.  Coastal Innovations provides best in class flood protection through our Rochester made FlexaPRISM Dams, which are customized to your needs and available to buy or rent.  Please contact us for more info.