Great Lakes
Waterloo Region Record

CAN - Winter storm ‘Elliott’ damages Lake Erie beaches from Wainfleet through to Fort Erie

Bay and Nickel beaches had undergone nature-based restoration efforts; Niagara Coastal staff survey damage

A winter storm that saw 90-km/h winds over 10 hours and Lake Erie rise more than two metres in seven hours caused the worst damage seen along the north shoreline in the past five years, says Niagara Coastal executive director Gregary Ford.

The storm, dubbed “Elliott” and called “generational” by Environment and Climate Change Canada, started on Dec. 23 and lasted for three days, impacting the shoreline of Wainfleet, Port Colborne and Fort Erie.

All three communities issued states of emergency as blowing snow caused whiteouts and vehicles to get stuck on highways and municipal streets. Niagara Region also issued a state of emergency.

Waves and the rising water levels scoured dunes at Wainfleet’s Reebs Bay and Port Colborne’s Nickel and Pleasant beaches.

Despite the damage, Ford said there were some indicators of hope that Niagara Coastal — an organization that works with local stakeholders on three ecological priorities: nature-based shorelines, healthy beaches, and habitat and species — hasn’t seen after previous storms.

“Fort Erie’s Bay Beach survived and is a good example to draw from,” he said.

Last October, Niagara Coastal and representatives from Niagara College, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and Town of Fort Erie and residents teamed up for a coastal day of action at the beach off Erie Road in Crystal Beach.

The groups planted beach grass to re-establish a juvenile dune, providing a natural land barrier between the beach and local infrastructure.

Information provided by Niagara Coastal’s Kiersten McCutcheon, the agency’s VAST (visual assessment survey tool) project co-ordinator, said the dune, set back 40 metres from the water, experienced minor damage from the storm.

She said the dune area is intact and appears to have trapped additional sand lost from a dune in front. The back dune functioned as intended, absorbing the energy from wind and wave activity and protecting the beach and facilities, she added.

Over time, the beach grass planted will spread, repairing and reknitting the damaged dune.

Ford said Bay Beach is an example of what the community can accomplish in providing shoreline resiliency and protection.

Since 2019, Niagara Coastal said, Lake Erie’s north shore has experienced record-breaking storms resulting in extreme shoreline erosion, loss of vegetation/habitat, and property and infrastructure damage.

Ford said Lake Erie is unpredictable at the best of times and that planning and setbacks can help protect cottages and houses along the shoreline as storms get worse.

Read more.