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Cleveland, Ohio, July 9, 1891.

GENERAL: I have the honor to forward herewith record of water levels on Lake Erie for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1894. The records were taken at the light-house, Monroe, Mich., and in the harbors at Cleveland and Ashtabula, Ohio, and Erie, Pa.

In connection with the record of water levels, I forward a report of Mr. William T. Blunt, U. S. assistant engineer, upon the levels of Lake Erie during the storm of October 14, 1893; also

copy of the map indicated in Mr. Blunt's report. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,





Lieut. Col., Corps of Engineers.

Chief of Engineers, U. S. A.



Monthly mean water levels for Monroe, Cleveland, Ashtabula, and Erie harbors, expressed in feet below the plane of reference adopted in 1876; that plane being the surface of high water of 1838 and 2.34 feet above the mean level, 1860 to 1875, inclusive.



Harbors at

July. Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May. June.

Feet. Feet. Feet. Feet. Fect. Feet. Feet. Feet. Feet. Feet. Feet. Feet.

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CLEVELAND, OHIO, June 20, 1894.

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report upon the variations in the surface of Lake Erie during the westerly gale of October 14, 1893:


The extent of Lake Erie may be divided into three well-defined basins: The west basin, west of the "Islands," containing about 1,200 square miles, and having a comparatively flat bottom at 5 to 6 fathoms when away from the immediate vicinity of the shore.

The main basin, between the "Islands" on the west and the narrows at Erie and Long Point on the east, containing about 6,700 square miles, and having a marked shelving bottom deepening gradually to 14 fathoms.

The east basin, east of the narrows, containing about 2,100 square miles, and having a deep depression of 30 fathoms just east from Long Point Ísland.

Between the main and east basins lies an extensive flat at 11 fathoms depth, with only a narrow cut of 12 fathoms near the American shore.

The general axis of the lake lies east northeast and west southwest, while that of the west basin makes a decided turn to west by north.

It is a well-known fact that a westerly wind lowers the water surface at the west end of the lake and raises it at the east end, while an easterly wind has the opposite effect. The amount and extent of fall or rise varies with the force and extent of the wind. A fresh local breeze will often change the level locally, while not affecting it materially in the open. A continued, general, and strong wind will have a general effect on the surface curve of the lake, lowering it considerably at the end from which the wind blows and raising it somewhat less at the opposite end. The variations due to this cause are most marked at the extreme ends of the lake, notably at Toledo, Monroe, and Buffalo. At the mouth of Detroit River they are tempered by the continuous supply from that river. At Toledo the record in the past eight years show an extreme fall of 74 feet and an extreme rise of 5 feet. As my data are more complete for the west end and for westerly storms, this report will deal more fully with westerly gales and consequent fall at west end of lake than with the opposite.

The variation in the shoal and inclosed west basin in a continued gale is much greater than in the main basin. A high westerly wind for several hours will lower the water in the west basin 2 feet, as shown by gauge at West Sister Island, which is well toward its center. This same wind will lower the water east of the islands only a few tenths.

This change of surface, due to heavy winds, has been many times remarked, usually in a general way, but I have no knowledge of its ever having been discussed on the basis of definite data. It would seem that the questions involved would not only be of great interest from a scientific standpoint, but would be of vital interest to navigators as enabling them to correctly judge of depths and currents during a severe storm. My own observations at the west end of the lake for the past eight years have convinced me that the subject should receive more than passing notice, and it is the purpose of this report to show a reason for that belief. About once in each year, usually in April, a heavy northeast storm occurs which raises the water 5 feet at the west end of the lake, and also once in each year, usually in October, a heavy westerly gale lowers the water 7 to 7 feet. These two storms are almost certain to come and to be attended by great loss of property and life. Never until last fall have circumstances permitted me to examine personally or to investigate generally the conditions attending such storms.


On the morning of this day, while the steamer Swansea was tied up without steam, cleaning boiler, the wind freshened from northwest and all indications were for the annual low water. As often happens in such cases, the day was full of drawbacks, so that the boat could not leave the pier until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, at which time the water in the river, 5 miles from its mouth, had receded to 7 feet below mean level. A trip of unusual interest was then made to the bay. In the river, flats were showing where a few days before we had found 8 feet of water. The banks of the Straight Channel, where maps show 6 feet depth around Presque Isle, were 2 feet out of water, and for 2 miles these banks showed above water perfectly straight as if on a canal. Darkness came on as we reached the bay so that my intention of photographing the view was frustrated. As we reached the main crib in the middle

of the bay we found the large Breymann dredge aground in the 17-foot channel and a reflex current rushing back against the gale with such force that the steamer could not be turned and had to remain there over night. By 9 o'clock the water had set back to within 3 feet of its normal level, notwithstanding the gale continued.

It so happened that in many harbors we had inspectors at the time, but it also unfortunately happened that none of them took special measurements of the stage of water, though I obtained from them, with the help of others, a very fair general idea of it. The general level of the lake before and after the storm was 0.7 foot below mean level of 1860-'75 as used for our datum plane. This general level must of course be used in discussing the effects of this storm. The variations from this level at different points, together with notes showing their reliability, are given below:

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Amherstburg, inside

mouth of Detroit




Gauge maintained by Gen. Poe; showed extreme at 4 p.
m., and nearly the same at 11 a. m. to 5:30 p. m.
Light-keeper measured at noon, -6.2 feet, and thinks it
was about 0.6 to 1.0 foot lower in the afternoon.
Measured by writer at Adams street, 5 miles from bay.
Estimate at mouth of river, by appearance of banks.
Estimate by light-keeper at main crib in bay...

West Sister Island Light keeper walked dry-shod around the pier, where
depth at mean level is about 6 feet.

Green Island



Black River.



Light-keeper says 5 feet below usual; could have walked
around pier but for sea.

Inspector's estimate at pier, -2.8 feet. Crib light keeper
took sounding in boat house; sounding afterward at
known stage gives--

Light-keeper says at least 3 feet below ordinary; others
same; could walk half way to light-house; soundings

Light-keeper estimated 1 foot below bottom of gauge......
Inspector's estimate, 3 feet or more below mean level;
others, 4 feet.

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Regular gauge reading at 12 and 6 o'clock, each

All say very low; light-keeper thinks 8 to 10 inches be-
low former level.

Inspector's gauge: Noon, -0.1; 6 p. m., -1.3

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It is also to be noted that both Erie and Buffalo show a minimum gauge of -0.8 and -2.8, respectively, at 2 a. m., giving a range of 8.1 at Buffalo during this storm. It will further be noted in the weather record below that at Buffalo the wind was from the eastward until 2 a. m., and about the same at Erie.

A tracing accompanies this report showing a contour map of Lake Erie and a profile of the water-surface curve along its south shore.

During this storm the weather conditions, as courteously furnished me by the various observers, were as follows:

Toledo.-Light easterly winds on 13th, rain in evening. Wind backed to north and northwest about midnight, increasing in force, and blew from northwest continuously till 5 p. m., 15th, when it became variable and dropped to 6-mile velocity. Maximum velocity 38 miles northwest at 10:30 a. m., 14th; general velocity, 20 to 30 miles northwest; minimum barometer, 28.46, 2 a. m., 14th.

Sandusky.-Easterly winds, 13th, light. Wind increased and backed to northeast in afternoon. High westerly winds from 2 p. m. to midnight, 14th, and continued till evening, 15th, when shifted to northerly.

Cleveland.-Barometer, midnight 13th, 28.33. At 7 p. m., 13th, increasing southeast wind had backed to northeast 27 miles. At8 p. m. backed to northwest and increased to 32 miles; backed to southwest 35 miles and reached 46 miles west at 2 a. m., 14th, and 48 southwest at 2:40 p. m., 14th. Minimum barometer 28.20 at 2 a. m., 14th, then rose steadily. Gale continued on 15th from southwest and northwest 41 miles maximrin at 2:50 p.m.

Erie.-Wind southeast forenoon of 13th backed to northeast in afternoon. Barometer fell rapidly. Windstorm began early in morning, maximum 34 miles southeast at 4:15. Another windstorm began at 8:30 p. m. and reached maximum of 42 southwest at 10:40 a. m., 14th. High wind began 5:30 a. m., velocity 30 to 35 miles, maximum 42 southwest. Abated after 2:30 p. m., 15th.

Buffalo.-From 5 p. m., 13th, to 2 a. m., 14th, barometer fell 1.05 reaching 27.89, the lowest known here. Wind shifted from northeast to southwest at 3 a. in. and blew a gale till after midnight, 14th, maximum 61 miles southwest at 4:10 p. m., 13th. Gale continued till 4 p. m., 15th.

This storm is noted by the Weather Bureau to have been a typical West India cyclone, developing east of the West Indies. It was one of the exceptional cases, when such a storm passes inland, the storm center being near Charleston on morning of 13th with 60-mile velocity, immediately west of Washington, evening of 13th, 38 to 48 miles velocity, thence passing rapidly over Buffalo and being north of Lake Ontario on morning of 14th. A very steep gradient existed on morning of 14th over the whole country east of Missouri River, which was not dissipated until evening of 15th. Ordinarily all storms approach this region from the westward, so that the gale does not commence at east end of the lake quite as early as at west end. In this case, its whole fury struck Lake Erie over its entire length at once. Its

unusal course also produced the erratic phenomenon of a "backing" wind holding steadily from one direction (see Toledo record) for forty hours. Many disastrous wrecks occurred, and it is worthy of note that several of the worst were in the vicinity of the "Narrows," before mentioned, between Long Point and the American shore near Erie and Dunkirk. The steamers Dean Richmond and Wocokea and the schooners C. B. Benson and Riverside were all lost during this storm, and all in the same locality-at these "Narrows." Seven lives were lost with each of the schooners, which were considered to be seaworthy boats, as both were in the grain trade. Not a soul was saved from the Richmond and but three from the Wocokea.


It will be observed that while few of the heights are accurate, they carry sufficient reliability to warrant a general discussion of the matter in the light of this crude data, and the hope that it will lead to the obtaining of more definite knowledge and perhaps more sound conclusions. A discussion of other points of interest than those touched upon in this report, though tempting, is, I feel, hardly justified by the data now at hand.

It must also be noted that all data we have was recorded along the south shore of the lake and that the times of record are not coincident, though generally nearly so. Following now the profile of water and surface in connection with the above data, we find that in the West Basin the fall in the funnel-shaped end, containing Monroe and Toledo, was 6.8 feet; in the open it was 5.3 feet. In the main basin, immedi ately we pass the Island barrier, the fall was but 2.6 feet for all points until Cleveland is reached at the widest part of the lake. Here we find a fall of but 1.2 feet, and practically the same at Ashtabula. Between Ashtabula and Conneaut, a distance of 13 miles, we meet a solid wall of water 4.7 feet high, there having been a rise of 3.4 feet at Conneaut. At Erie the rise was 0.8 foot less than at Conneaut, and at Buffalo the highest point reached was 5.3 feet.

The question now at once arises, do these surface heights along the south shore correctly represent the heights of water in the lake? Assuming it to be so, that is, that the surface is level on each line normal to the shore, then the surplus water in the eastern end of the lake should be about equal to the deficiency in the west end. We find the line of no variation from the normal stage before and after the storm to have heen between Ashtabula and Conneaut. The area west of this line is approximately 7,000 square miles, that east of it, 3,000 square miles. In order to make the two quantities equal, the proportion of fall to rise should be as 3 to 7. The record of fall being more numerous, covering larger territory and to a fair extent agreeing among themselves, we may assume a fall of 5.3 feet over 1,200 square miles, 2.6 feet over 1,800 square miles, 1.2 feet over 4,000 square miles, to equal à fall of 2.3 feet over 7,000 square miles; which would give, if our assumption is correct, an average rise of of 2.3 feet 5.4 over 3,000 square miles. This is not borne out by the data, as it is as large as the maximum height at Buffalo, and twice as large as that at Erie. To show its absurdity, we have really an average rise of perhaps 3.7 feet over 3,000 squaro miles, which leaves unaccounted for a body of water amounting to 16,000,000,000 of cubic feet, enough to supply the ordinary outflow of Niagara for 20 hours. This amount is beyond that already accounted for by the recorded rise at Buffalo, which by itself would scarcely double the outflow even while it lasted. When we consider the pressure which must have existed in connection with the change of elevation of 4.7 feet in 13 miles between Ashtabula and Conneaut, and consider also the immense volume of water displaced west of them and not found to the eastward, it suggests the idea of an enormous eddy or swirl, more or less forcible, in that portion of the lake, the current setting down along the south shore and up along the Canadian side. The observations, though crude, seem to show conclusively that the surface of the lake is not level on the normal lines, but is much higher on the north shore. This is borne out by the fact before mentioned that during the height of the gale there is invariably a reflex current into the west point of the lake, too strong to allow of the belief that it is caused by the gravity of the "piled up" water overcoming the force of the wind. It is a fact that most of the Lake Erie wrecks during a westerly gale are in the vicinity of the "Narrows." In an easterly gale, when these peculiar conditions do not exist, there is seldom a loss in that region.

Is it not possible that in these serious storms there are forces at work for destruetion with which we are not familiar, and that a proper study would give the means for combatting them successfully?

I beg leave to suggest that the line of thought here touched upon is important enough to warrant further and more accurate study on the basis of definite data. If the conditions here suggested do actually exist, it will be of vast importance to the navigation interests to know of them; and in order to gain the information for a more thorough and accurate discussion, I respectfully recommend that steps be taken to have all light-keepers on Lake Erie record the height of water three times





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