What caused the record rise on Lake Michigan?

Rising Waters

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lake Michigan has had one of the fastest rises on record in the past six years.

Places along the lakeshore where beach extended for hundreds of feet are now inundated. In many places, the water has risen so high that is has claimed docks, decks and even homes.

The rise we have seen is unprecedented in that it is the fastest rise in the shortest amount of time ever on record.

For six straight months, new records were set. In some cases, the new record completely smashed the old one set back in 1986.

WHAT RECORDS WERE BROKEN?

Remember that in 2013, Lake Michigan set an all-time low water level record. Lake level statistics have been kept since 1918.

WHAT CAUSED THE RISE?

If you stood on a Lake Michigan beach in 2013, chances are it was two or three times larger than it is today. Here are some comparisons of local beaches from 2015 to now.

There were 14 years of below-average water levels recorded before the all-time low level record was set in 2013. In the short span of six years, we went from a low water mark on the Great Lakes to the record high levels we are experiencing now. This was the fastest climb in levels ever seen.

The biggest reason behind the whiplash rise is the incredible excess in precipitation.

Michigan is coming off of its wettest five-year period, three-year period and one-year period on record.

Precipitation for the Great Lakes basin over the last 12 months.

Michigan isn’t the only state along Lake Michigan experiencing record precipitation. Three of Wisconsin’s wettest years have occurred in just the past five years.

In addition to the fact that we had such extensive precipitation, we also saw an incredible amount of cloud cover. In a total year, we usually see 46%. In 2019, for example, we only saw 39%, which limits the amount of evaporation off of the lakes.

Ice is also to blame. Four out of the last seven years, we’ve seen greater-than-average ice levels on the Great Lakes. This also limits winter evaporation off the lakes, keeping the water trapped below the ice. Evaporation is usually fairly high in the winter due to the cold and very dry air rolling in from the north.

WHAT’S AHEAD?

Looking ahead, there is a slight change. For the first time in months, the water level is expected to drop.

We experienced our sunniest June on record, with more 90s by July than we usually see in an average year. This along with some stretches of dry weather have had a positive affect.

So far this year, Lake Michigan was just an inch shy of the all-time high water level ever recorded from 1986. That high water level mark was set in October of that year. While current projections show that we may not grab the title for “highest level ever,” experts say there is still time for that to change.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Rising Waters

Fall is usually when we see the water levels drop on Lake Michigan. However, the high water level record set back in 1986 happened after a surprisingly wet fall helped catapult high water levels to an even greater high.

Experts say that event alone shows us we are not out of the woods yet. While projections are looking good for the time being, we need to be prepared for more loss if the weather turns wet once more.

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