November 2009
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Seiche Effect in Maumee River and Lake Erie

Strong winds in September provided a demonstration of the seiche effect on the Maumee River and Maumee Bay. The seiche is sometimes called a storm surge. When strong winds blow across the waters of the river and lake, the winds drag water with them. This causes the water level to fall on the upwind side and to rise on the downwind side.

Effects are particularly dramatic in northwest Ohio because the western end of Lake Erie is very shallow and the axis of the lake is in the direction of the prevailing southwest wind. A strong wind from the southwest pulls water from the river and bay and pushes it toward Buffalo.

Winds on September 28 were up to 45 miles per hour for many hours. The photo shows an empty Maumee River at Perrysburg at about 6 p.m. In Ottawa County, some boats docked at marinas near Lake Erie went aground that day as the water sloshed to the east. When the winds die down, the water sloshes back (the bathtub effect). These back and forth surges can cause flooding and erosion which can be worse if there is ice that can damage structures. About a third of all severe storms in our region happen in November. Average wind speed also peaks in November and in March. The lake freighter the Edmund Fitzgerald sank on Lake Superior in a November storm that had winds of 50 knots (58 mph).

Strong winds created a seiche effect in the Maumee River, pushing water out to Lake Erie
and to the east.

Photos by Matt Horvat,
Maumee River Watershed Coordinator

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