Terry’s Take: Record low water levels shrink Lake Michigan

Posted on: 7:22 pm, March 25, 2013, by , updated on: 11:04pm, March 26, 2013

Terry Swails Weather Blog

It’s official, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports Lake Michigan has sunk to an all-time record low.  So too has Lake Huron while the other Great Lakes, Superior, Erie and Ontario, are well below their long term averages as well.

As of 2013, the surface of Lake Michigan has fallen more than 6 feet below the record high, set in October 1986. The water level is tracked by gauges placed around lakes Michigan and Huron, which are actually one body of water connected by the Straits of Mackinac. Daily measurements are then averaged at the end of each month for record-keeping purposes.

GRAPHIC COMPARISON FROM THE U.S. CORP OF ENGINEERS

GRAPHIC COMPARISON FROM THE U.S. CORP OF ENGINEERS

The lakes have recently been setting individual monthly records, but the recent announcement means the lakes are now lower than they have ever been for any month since modern record-keeping began in 1918.

DOOR COUNTY SHORELINE

DOOR COUNTY SHORELINE

For months hydrologists had been predicting the lakes to dip to levels never before seen due to the extensive warm dry weather of the past year. Their expectations were met back in January when the lakes plunged below the previous low water marks set in 1964.  This is the culmination of a below average trend on Michigan and Huron that’s been going on for the last 14 years, the longest period of sustained below-average levels since 1918.

BEACH WITH NO WATER

BEACH WITH NO WATER

Depending on long term weather patterns, It’s typical for water levels on the Great Lakes to fluctuate seasonally by inches and as much as several feet over a period of years. Previously these extremes were framed by the record low of March 1964 and the record high of October 1986.  At last report, the 2 lakes are 29 inches below their long-term average and had declined 17 inches in just the past year.

GRAND HAVEN, MI. SHORE FRONT

GRAND HAVEN, MI. SHORE FRONT

The low water has caused heavy economic losses by forcing cargo ships to carry lighter loads, leaving boat docks high and dry, and damaging fish-spawning areas. And vegetation has sprung up in newly exposed shoreline bottomlands, a real downer for hotel customers who prefer the sandy beaches of summer.

Scientists say lake levels are cyclical and controlled mostly by nature. Rain, snow, and plenty of it is the long term solution to this problem!