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Cleveland-area of Lake Erie hit hard by Sandy

Posted on November 22, 2012

Cleveland — Superstorm Sandy made a rare appearance over the Great Lakes last month, wreaking havoc along the Ohio coastline of Lake Erie as the mighty hurricane churned up waves and boulders with high wind gusts, capsized boats at marinas, and pushed miles of debris on shore.

For Sandy, a post-tropical cyclone, to cause such widespread damage and discomfort to people who live near the Great Lakes was unique said Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground.

“Sandy was a freak. It was a pretty far reach for an Atlantic hurricane,” Masters said.

The massive storm's winds spanned 950 miles of coastline and hurricane warnings were posted from Chicago to eastern Maine and from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Lake Okeechobee in Florida, an area populated by 120 million, Masters wrote in an e-mail.

When Hurricane Sandy was 20 hours from landfall, its tropical-force winds covered an ocean area equal to one-fifth of the contiguous United States and generated 12-foot seas covering 1.4 million square miles, Masters said.

Ten hours before landfall, Sandy’s wind energy was 2.7 times higher than Hurricane Katrina’s peak wind energy or equivalent to five Hirsoshima-sized atomic bombs, he said.

On Lake Michigan, a buoy maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration, recorded waves reaching 23 feet at the peak of the storm, the Coast Guard reported.

Total economic losses caused by Sandy are estimated at $30 billion, according to Aon Benfield, a leading reinsurance and risk intermediary. The hurricane and inland cyclone killed 113 people, affecting up to 60 million people in 24 states, the catastrophe-management company reported in 2012 Global Catastrophe Recap.

Along Lake Erie, several marinas reported moored boats had capsized along with structural damage, according to the U.S. Coast Guard in Cleveland.

At Whiskey Island Marina, approximately 30 boats were damaged including the sinking of two powerboats and four sailboats, the Coast Guard reported. In addition, wind-blown waves broke marina piers, making parts of the marina inaccessible.

The Coast Guard's Marine Safety Unit located 15 heavily damaged boats at the Edgewater Marina with one posing a serious risk of sinking due to a hole in its hull near the waterline, the Coast Guard said in a news release. In addition, there were 15 confirmed sunken vessels at the marina with another 10-15 boats unaccounted for, according to the Coast Guard station in Cleveland.

Cleanup crews found a buoy from the Edwater marina that apparently drifted nine miles to the East 55th Street Marina, according Hyle Lowry, Ohio outreach coordinator for the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program. Other boats were damaged at the Cleveland Yachting Club where the Coast Guard found a floating debris field, according to a news release.

The Coast Guard requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey waters from Emerald Necklace Marina to the mouth of Rocky River because of a submerged vehicle and several submerged vessels.

In addition to watercraft damage, high waves whipped by muscular Sandy’s winds deposited a large number of quagga mussel shells – many with live mussels still inside, according to Brenda Culler, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Coastal Development.

Invasive quagga mussels were first discovered in Lake Erie in 1989 and are a slightly larger version of the more commonly known invasive zebra mussel. Typically, only shells or fragments of shells wash ashore in small quantities and accumulate over time, Culler said by e-mail.

“The power of the waves scoured the lake bottom, breaking the filaments that the live quagga mussels shoot out to keep themself tethered to the lake bottom,” Culler wrote. “The waves pushed the mussels ashore, depositing them in large quantities.”

The discovery was made by coastal engineers conducting post-storm surveys, Culler said.

Sandy's winds, which gusted up to 54 mph on Oct. 31, in parts of Lake Erie blew south toward Ohio’s coast and appeared to have pushed around nearshore sandbars, leaving some coastal areas with a wider beach and a higher beach than what was present before the storm, Culler wrote.

“Ohio was very fortunate that Lake Erie’s water levels were about 10 inches below the long-term average when Superstorm Sandy hit,” Culler said. “The low water levels meant that the waves weren’t reaching as high on the beaches, bluffs or shore structures as they may have otherwise. Most areas of Ohio’s coast were spared damage and free of debris.”

Beaches create a buffer between the lake and the upland, Culler said, and larger beaches were able to protect against the effects of wave action better than narrow ones.

The Office of Coastal Management was in contact with each coastal counties’ emergency management agency and many of the coastal communities to see if those communities had damage or erosion of shore areas or debris washing ashore.

Apart from Cuyahoga County sites, particularly in Cleveland, communities have not reported any damage or significant amounts of debris from the storm, according to Culler.

On Nov. 10, the Office of Coastal Management joined with the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach Program to recruit volunteers to help clean up storm debris at a dozen Lake Erie public access sites.

The Alliance's Lowry said he was amazed that 92 volunteers quickly responded to help with cleanup efforts at the Edgewater, Rocky River, East 55th Street, and Bradstreet's Landing marinas after launching the effort less than a week after the storm.

Workers at the East 55th Street marina collected 1,201 pounds of storm debris, filling 92 bags, Lowry said. Along the way at various sites, Lowry said workers found a heavy broken guardrail, fishing equipment, inner tubes, and beached plastic flotsam.

Heavy rocks pushed onto grass by the storm surge required front-loaders to haul them back to their locations, Lowry said.

Lowry said she heard some interesting storm anecotes attesting to the power of Sandy's strength on Lake Erie during the height of the storm.

“One woman had tied her boat up and went to get a cup of coffee and when she returned, her boat was gone,” Lowry said. The whereabouts of the woman's boat remains unclear, she said.

Lowry said when she observed weather conditions at Lake Erie before the full force of Sandy struck the lake, “I could barely stand up. It was intense.”

Lowry said she can’t say enough about the enthusiastic turnout of volunteer works for storm cleanup.

“It was awesome. I met volunteers I had never met before. One said, ‘This is my backyard. This is where I live.’ Another volunteer worked until she said her back couldn't take it anymore,” Lowry said.

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