Pictured are just a few of the amazing photos Barry Koehler captured during Winter Storm Elliott after water levels plummeted to record lows. The Western Basin of Lake Erie, where Put-in-Bay is located, lost around sixty inches of water in less than 6 hours. Barry’s original Facebook post went viral with over two million views and over 50,000 shares on social media. TOP LEFT: An eerie photo of Perry’s Monument taken from the north side of Gibraltar Island. TOP RIGHT: What used to be the “needle-eye” on the north side of Gibraltar. This is a hotspot for kayakers when the lake is at its normal level. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry dressed in a survival suit as he walked completely around Gibraltar on the exposed shoreline. BOTTOM RIGHT: An icicle-covered boulder on the north shore of Gibraltar.
A Holiday Storm for the Ages!
Winter Storm Elliott came through the islands on Friday, December 23rd, just in time for the Christmas holiday. Elliott was no ordinary storm, but one with sustained winds in the high 40 to low 50 mph range from the south and west-southwest direction with temperatures below zero. Anyone who left their home was met with a windchill of 30 degrees below zero. Fortunately, any measurable snowfall was blown off the islands towards Buffalo.
The wind was so strong that the water level in the lake went down and stayed down for many hours. In fact, the USCG reported the western basin of Lake Erie experienced the all time lowest seiche of 84 inches! The lake bottom was exposed to a degree we personally have never experienced. It was so low that Barry Koehler (PIBHS Class of 2000) and his father-in-law Billy Tracey of Marblehead donned survival suits and walked across Allegator Reef to Gibraltar Island. Barry walked on the lake bed completely around the island taking beautiful photos of their adventure and the historically low water level. The photos went viral on social media, seen by this area’s State Senator Theresa Gavarone, made Cleveland.com and Reddit, used by the US National Weather Service in Cleveland and were shown on TV in Cleveland.
When the storm started, there was open water, but on the day before Christmas ice was all around the islands except for the eastside. Billy had called it right when he halted ferry service for the season on the 22nd. Ice began to build up on dock at the Lime Kiln the next day and eventually became coated with a foot of ice. The dock at the State Park was the same. If you went on putinbay.com and checked out the photos from Kasper’s shiphouse webcam you’d have seen a bizarre scene of the ice-covered cliffs of South Bass Island’s West Shore.
The island’s ice fisherman, who saw one of the best catches of minnows in years and had their minnow cars full for the coming ice fishing season, lost them all when the water dropped and froze their bait. Let’s hope they can catch more soon because the ice is sure here.
Islanders more than appreciate Terry Jenkins from Ohio Edison who made Christmas merry and cozy for those who lost power on South Bass Island. He was out in the worst of the storm making repairs.
When all was said and done, Winter Storm Elliott was one for the record book, and needless to say, it will be talked about for years by those who were on the island to live through it.