Environment & Science
4:43 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

Lake Michigan approaching record low water level

Just about a half a meter less, and the record will be beat.

That's how much the water level in Lake Michigan would have to drop to reach the record low level set in March of 1964.

In that month, the Lake Michigan water level was measured at 175.58 meters above sea level.

This past July, it was measured at 176.04 meters above sea level.

You can explore historic Great Lakes water level data on this NOAA website.

The Traverse City Record Eagle reports the lake levels are 11 inches lower than last year, and could be going lower.

Mark Breederland, an extension educator for the Michigan Sea Grant, said Lake Michigan is 23 inches below the long-term average.

"Most people say plus or minus a foot from the long-term average is the sweet spot," Breederland said. "Well, we are outside the sweet spot zone."

Lakes Michigan and Huron are in the midst of a decade-long stretch of below-average water levels, said Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Detroit District.

The Corps' forecast range for water levels in Lake Michigan has the lake on track to possibly break the all-time record low set in 1964.

But really, that's just a number.  You could say that records have already been broken.

As Kompoltowicz points out above, Lakes Michigan and Huron have been low for a long time now - more than a decade.

The low water levels seen in the early sixties only lasted around 5 to 6 years.

I recall speaking with retired hydrologist Frank Quinn of NOAA about the difference between these two periods of time (the low lake levels in the 1960s vs. the current low lake levels).

Both periods, Quinn noted, were tied to low precipitation levels, but the current period has a different element. It has been marked by higher nighttime temperatures, he said.

These higher temperatures lead to less more evaporation and less ice cover on the lakes.