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Analyst: Great Lakes’ high water levels reflect natural variability

Oct 18, 2019 06:29AM ● By Editor

Waves crash on the rocky coast of Lake Superior at Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula.  Photo: Kenneth Keifer |

By Bruce Walker of The Center Square - October 18, 2019

Reacting to recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reports stating water levels in the Great Lakes are nearing or already attaining record highs for the month of October, some analysts are offering assurances that the quantity of water results from last spring’s heavy rains and snowmelt rather than climate change.

“Lake Superior tied its record high monthly mean level in September,” Deanna Apps, a physical scientist in the USACE Detroit District, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “Lake Michigan-Huron's September monthly mean level was 4 inches below its record. Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie surpassed their September monthly record by 1 and 2 inches, respectively. Lake Ontario's September monthly mean level was 7 inches below its record high.”

In a subsequent phone conversation with The Center Square, Apps attributed the high water levels as “culminating from persistent wet conditions since 2013,” which included higher than usual snowmelt into the Great Lakes basin and heavy rains in the spring.

“Predominantly wetter conditions are close to records,” she said, which she explained is the reason why the seasonal dry conditions normally commonplace in October have declined in 2019.

The Detroit Free Press noted last week: “The impacts of climate change on Great Lakes water levels going forward isn’t clear. Historical data shows temperatures in the Great Lakes region are rising faster than the rest of the continental U.S., and winter and spring precipitation, particularly via strong storms is increasing. Those trends are expected to continue.”

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Environmental Director Jason Hayes also says the higher water levels of the Great Lakes are due to last spring’s snowmelt and heavy rain. In an email to The Center Square, Hayes wrote: “Heavy ice-pack last winter paired up with a wet spring to ensure that the Great Lakes are experiencing very high water levels in 2019.”

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