The top pic. is the South Haven Channel Friday PM, Jan. 20, 2023.

The water level of all of the Great Lakes is a little above the average level, but with the exception of Lake Superior, the water level of the Great Lakes is lower than one year ago.

Graph of the Water Level of Lake Superior

The water level of Lake Superior is down 2″ in the last month. The lake level often falls in the winter, when the temperatures are below freezing and the water (snow) stays on the ground and doesn’t flow into the rivers. However, Lake Superior’s water level is up 11″ in the last year. That’s a pretty sizable jump in one year. That area has been getting above average precipitation of late. Marquette is already up to 4.3″ of precipitation for January, that’s 2.79″ above average (285% of average). Marquette has already had 120″ of snow this winter. They have 27″ of snow on the ground. Sault Ste. Marie is up to 95.2″ for the winter and that’s 27.3″ above average. They have 24″ of snow on the ground.

Graph of the Water level of Lake Michigan/Huron

The water level of Lake Michigan/Huron (one lake for lake level purposes, connected at the Mackinac Bridge) is down 1″ in the last month and it’s down 6″ in the last year. In 2022, Grand Rapids precipitation was 1.67″ below average and Muskegon was 2.50″ below average. The level of the lake(s) is 5″ above the January average level. It’s a whopping 32″ below the highest level reached in 2020 (biggest fall of all the Great Lakes). So, there’s a lot more beach to play at compared to two or three years ago.

One more thing. Note how the level bounces up and down a bit. That’s because of windy days. When we have a strong east wind, it pushes the water toward Wisconsin and when we have a strong west wind it pushes the water toward Lower Michigan. That can mean a rise in lake level of several inches on one side of the lake and a corresponding fall on the other side.

Graph of the Water level of Lake St. Clair

Lake St. Clair is technically not a Great Lake, but it’s a good size lake – 430 square miles (about half the size of Kent County). The water level of the lake is up 2″ in the last month, but down 10″ in the last year. It’ still 9″ above the January average.

Interesting note about Lake St. Clair. Water enters the north end of the lake from the St. Clair River and exits at the south end of the lake down the Detroit River. The residence time (amount of time that water spends in the lake) is just 7 days. That compares to Lake Michigan, where the residence time is 99 years. That’s about as long as the time between Detroit Lions playoff wins.

Graph of the Water Level of Lake Erie

The water level of Lake Erie is up 3″ in the last month. The Lake Erie basin has had a lot of rain this month. Cleveland has had 4.39″ of precipitation in January and that’s 2.34″ above average. The level of the lake is down 9″ in the last month and it’s still 11″ above the January average. However the lake level is 22″ lower than the highest January level reached in 1987.

Graph of the Water Level of Lake Ontario

The water level of Lake Ontario is up 8″ in the last month (remember Buffalo got buried by snow in late November and December, with over 100″ of snow during that time (64.7″ in December). That all melted. The precipitation total for Buffalo in December was 6.57″. The level of Lake Ontario is down 8″ in the last year and is now 4″ above the January average.

International Bridge over the St. Marys River at S. Ste. Marie

All the rivers that connect the Great Lakes have above average flow and that will continue into the spring and probably beyond. The Detroit River at Detroit has a flow of 199,000 cubic feet per second, compared to an average flow of 174,000 cfs.

Rivers in West Michigan have been running a little above average, despite the fact that much of the area has seen slightly below average precipitation since Christmas. “Average” includes many years when it’s been colder with temperatures below freezing. Precipitation comes as snow and stays on the ground, not running off into the rivers right away. This year, we’ve had a lot of rain instead of snow this month, so some of that rain got in the rivers.

The Grand River at Grand Rapids has a flow of 3,560 cfs, compared to an average flow of 3,040 cfs. The Kalamazoo River at Comstock has a flow of 1,050 cfs, compared to an average flow of 873 cfs. The St. Joseph River at Niles has a flow of 3,660 cfs, compared to an average flow of 3,030 cfs and the Muskegon River at Croton has a flow of 2,580 cfs, compared to an average flow of 2010 cfs.

Graph of Lake Michigan ice cover (red line is average). As you can see, the warmer than average temperatures mean less ice to no ice on the Great Lakes. The above graph is for Lake Michigan.

For the individual lakes: Lake Superior 3.1%, Lake Michigan 4.6%, Lake Huron 8.2%, Lake Erie 2.9%, Lake Ontario 1.4% and Lake St. Clair 0.0%. The Great Lakes as a whole is at 4.4%. If that were to hold for a winter maximum, it would be a new record low ice extent. However, I think that number will be eclipsed with the colder pattern we have ahead.

Great Lakes Maximum Ice Extent by Year

Here’s Great Lakes Ice extent. As you can see, there are some big swings up and down. Also, note that we have stretches of 4 or 5 years in a row with above average or below average ice. In 2019, we had an 81% ice cover (a lot). The next winter was warmer and we had a 19.5% ice cover. From 1977-1982, we had a stretch of 5 years with well above average ice From 1998 (when we had a strong El Nino to 2002, we had 5 consecutive years of well below average ice cover. So, be a little skeptical when you see stories about the 4% ice extent right now being the “new normal”.

News: Tow vessel sinks in Wisconsin harbor. New 3.4 million dollar lab to study sea lamprey. Warm weather pattern is good for birds. New icebreaker to be built for the Great Lakes. Rare Mandarin Duck spotted at Lake Michigan coast. Protecting the shoreline from future storms. Great Lakes aquarium sets attendance record. Beach cleaning robots. Ottawa Co. gets grant for park restoration. Santa picks up trash. Surfing Lake Michigan in the winter.