What a difference a year makes along the shoreline of Lake Ontario! Any flood threat later this year?

Summer Outlook 2021

Photo Credit: Lindsay Raychel

The Great Lakes are impressive lakes, and many enjoy Central New York’s closest Great Lake, Lake Ontario, during the warm season. Unfortunately, over the last few years many have not been able to enjoy the lake due to significant flooding thanks to the very high lake levels and in fact record levels in May of 2017, June of 2019, and July of 2019!

Thankfully, the water levels for all the Great Lakes have significantly dropped the past year, but the most significant drop has occurred on Lake Ontario. How much has it dropped? Two feet since last May!! I asked Bryce Carmichael, the U.S. Secretary to the International Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River Board (a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) what’s the main reason for the big drop off in water levels?

Bryce Carmichael said, “Over the last twelve months we’ve seen a significant decline on Lake Ontario. The period from March of 2020, or April 1, 2020, through the end of March 2021 was tied for the driest 12-month period on record according to the NOAA database record since 1950.”  

Check out the precipitation deficits since the start of 2021 across the Great Lakes, and then the water levels compared to the average for this time of year! 

The result of the driest year since 1950 across the Lake Ontario basin has brought Lake Ontario water levels well below normal for this time of year! Lake levels have stopped dropping and are starting to come up a bit in response to recent rains. The big question is…should property owners along the shores of Lake Ontario be nervous about more flooding later this year?

Bryce says “the chances are near zero percent on any flooding impacts this year. Even if significantly wet weather over the next few months develops, it’s not going to be enough to push those water levels to the concerning levels, we saw in 2019 and 2017.”

I’d say that’s reason to rejoice for Lake Ontario shoreline property owners! You can see the graph below showing the record high levels back in June 2019 and July 2019, actual Lake Ontario water level blue line, the black line is what the average water level is supposed to be, and then the red line on the far right is the forecast water level change the rest of the year which supports the low flood risk this year!

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