Government, Lakeshore, and Sustainability

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron drop to record low water levels

February 12, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit, through its Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office, has reported a preliminary new record low water level for Lake Michigan-Huron for the second month in a row.

The Corps said the average low of 175.57 meters — or 576.02 feet above sea level for the two lakes, which are actually one connected body of water — in January is the lowest monthly average ever recorded since records started being compiled in 1918.

The Corps’ latest forecasts indicate a strong likelihood for continued record lows on Lake Michigan-Huron over the next several months.

Above-average precipitation and snow cover coupled with below-average evaporation this winter are needed to raise Lake Michigan-Huron water levels above record lows. However, it would take similar conditions over many seasons for levels to rise to near average levels, said John Allis, chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office.

Water levels on the other Great Lakes are expected to remain below their respective long-term average water levels, but above record lows.

“Not only have water levels on Michigan-Huron broken records the past two months, but they have been very near record lows for the last several months before then," Allis said. "Lake Michigan-Huron’s water levels have also been below average for the past 14 years, which is the longest period of sustained below-average levels since 1918 for that lake.”

The Corps said the record low levels on Lake Michigan-Huron are the result of lower than average snowfall during the winter of 2011-2012, coupled with the very hot and dry summer.

Together, these conditions led to only a four inch seasonal rise of Lake Michigan-Huron in 2012, compared to an average rise of 12 inches. Also, evaporation was significantly above average during the summer and fall and contributed to a very rapid seasonal decline.

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