Great Lakes Water Level Update – More Bad News

Bill's Blog
Muskegon officials say they are closing boardwalk access to Lake Michigan at Kruse Park due to erosion and high water levels. (Courtesy of the City of Muskegon)

Muskegon officials say they are closing boardwalk access to Lake Michigan at Kruse Park due to erosion and high water levels. (Courtesy of the City of Muskegon)

Top pic. is the boardwalk at Kruse Park near Muskegon on Lake Michigan, which has been closed due to high water.

At a time when Great Lakes water levels usually go down, they are going up. The runoff from the Jan. 11 heavy rainfall event reached the lakes this past week. Lately, it’s also been cloudy and damp with high relative humidity and light winds. This all leads to low evaporation on the lakes. Sunday we’ll get a brief break from the pattern, with some sunshine, a healthy breeze and lower relative humidity in the afternoon.

Below are plots of the current year’s daily lake levels (blue) compared with last year’s levels (black) and last year’s annual average (dark red). The monthly averages are shown as a step plot through the daily averages.Plotted in the background are the coordinated (official) averages (green), record highs (cyan), and record lows (brown). The levels bounce up and down a bit due to the direction and strength of the wind on the lakes.

Graph of the Water Level of Lake Superior

The water level of Lake Superior is unchanged in the last month and is now 4″ higher than one year ago. The lake is 15″ higher than the average for late January and is now tied with 1986 for highest water level ever reached in January 1986.

Graph of the Water Level of Lake Michigan/Huron

The level of Lake Michigan/Huron is up 3″ in the last month and is up an astonishing 20″ in the last year. Each inch rise represents an additional 390 billion gallons of water added to the lake. So a gain of 20″ is 7.8 trillion gallons of water added to the lake. The lake is 39″ higher than the average level for late January and 5″ higher than the previous highest average level for the month of January set in 1987.

Graph of the Water Level of Lake Erie

The water level of Lake Erie also saw an incredible rise in January, up 6″ since late December. The lake is 8″ higher than one year ago and 32″ higher than the January average. It’s still 2″ below the January highest level set in 1987.

Graph of the Water Level of Lake Ontario

The water level of Lake Ontario is up 3″ in the last month and up 8″ year-to-year. Ontario is 20″ higher than the January average and still 3″ below the record high January level set in 1946.

Lake St. Clair is up 4″ in the last month, up 21″ in the last year and is now 37″ higher than the January average. The level is 1″ below the January record level set in 1986.

Soo Locks in Winter – Pic. from Army Corps of Engineers

All the rivers that connect the Great Lakes continue to have well above average flow. The St. Mary’s River, which takes water from Lake Superior into Lake Huron has a flow of 105,000 cubic feet per second. The St. Clair River, which exits Lake Huron, has a flow of 251,000 cfs – that’s 168% of average flow for late January. The Detroit River at Detroit has a flow of 278,000 cfs and that is 167% of average. When have above average flow, a river will usually get a little bit bigger (wider, deeper), but it will mainly compensate by flowing faster to get a higher volume of water through a given point.

High Water in Jan. 2020 on the Grand River in Comstock Park MI – pic. by Bill Steffen

Here’s a pic. I took recently in Comstock Park, showing flooding on the Grand River in the North Park area (east side of the river). The Grand River in Grand Rapids has a current (Fri. AM 1/31) flow of 11,100 cfs, compared to an average flow for late Jan. of 3,060 cfs (363% of average). The Kalamazoo River at Comstock has a flow of 1,820 cfs – average is 866 cfs. The St. Joseph River at Niles has a flow of 7,750 cfs – average flow is now 3,400 cfs. The Saginaw River at Saginaw has a current flow of 12,300 cfs, compared to an average flow of 3,900 cfs. The Fox River at Appleton WI has a flow of 8,250 cfs – average is 3,630 cfs. So, you can see a lot of water is still flowing into Lake Michigan/Huron and that will keep the water level of the lake(s) at record levels in February. At this point there is only a little snow on the ground across S. Lower Michigan, but there is average to above average snowcover in Upper Michigan. Here’s where to check the current levels of W. Michigan rivers.

Great Lakes Ice Cover

Due to the warm temperatures (Grand Rapids MI is 7 degrees warmer than average this month of January), ice extent on the Great Lakes is well below average…including just 3.4% on Lake Suupeior and 0.4% on Lake Erie.

Historic Great Lakes Ice Extent

This is Great Lakes Ice Extent from 1973-present. Four of the last seven years (including this winter) we have had above average ice extent on the Great Lakes.

GREAT LAKES NEWS: Michigan snow conditions. No permit to protect lakefront homes from high water. Ice balls on Lake Michigan. Neighbors take seawall battle to court. Who “owns” the beach. They “lost 45 feet” in one storm. Golf course becoming public park. Shoreline sludge. Century-old shipwreck. Moving homes back away from the eroding shore. Tracking birds along Lake Michigan. Beach erosion uncovers treasure. Another beach closed because of high water. Lighthouse is 190 years old. High water ” swallowing beaches and houses, swamping sewer systems, flooding roads and public buildings and turning farm fields into lakes.” Controlling the outflow of Lake Ontario. Mysterious ecosystems uncovered. Black muck floating in lake. Getting Great Lakes Freighters ship-shape for the coming shipping season. Interactive map of Great Lakes shipwrecks. Dock collapse on the Detroit River. High water effects in the Traverse City area. “I’ve never seen the lake looking like this“. First of a kind marina coming to Lake Michigan. 10 Million Dollar donation. Eco-friendly surfboards.

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