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Worries mount as Lake Ontario levels climb ever higher

Two years after historic flooding devastated the Lake Ontario shoreline, the lake level is unusually high and property owners are just now starting to fret about a repeat this spring.

The water level in the huge lake is nearly 14 inches higher than it usually is at this point of the winter. Over the 60 years, the lake has been this high in mid-February only five times — and in two of those years, 1973 and 1993, serious flooding occurred in the spring.

That doesn’t mean flooding is inevitable by any means. The lake level likely won’t peak until May, and if snow and rainfall are modest for the rest of the winter and the spring, the level could well remain below the danger point.

Wind whips the waves on Lake Ontario at Ontario Beach Park Dec. 18, 2018. The sun was just rising in the horizon, (Photo11: Tina MacIntyre-Yee/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

“I understand that people are concerned,” said Keith Koralewski, a hydrologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Buffalo who advises regulators on the lake level. “But we’re in February. It’s still too early to know what the weather’s going to be like later this month and into March and April.”

Lake Ontario typically rises more than a foot from late winter to late spring in response to melting snow and spring rain. Flood worries arise if the lake starts from a higher-than-normal point in winter, or receives an above-normal amount of runoff and precipitation in the spring.

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