High lake levels will continue into 2020

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published January 17, 2020

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With the Great Lakes starting 2020 higher than they did in 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, is urging those impacted by high water levels in 2019 to prepare for a similar situation this year.

The most recent six-month forecast of levels for the Great Lakes shows water levels continuing to be above average over that time period. Unlike in 2019, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron — which the Army Corps considers to be one lake, as they are connected and always at the same level — are forecasted to reach record-high levels in 2020.

“It is likely that water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron will set new monthly mean record-high levels over the next couple of months,” said John Allis, chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office, Detroit District, in a press release. “This sets the stage for coastal impacts and damages in 2020 similar to, or worse than, what was experienced last year.”

Lauren Fry, the technical lead for Great Lakes hydrology for the Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, said that Lake St. Clair is also starting the year “well above last year’s levels.”

The monthly mean level for December 2019 was 8 inches above that in December 2018, she said, and 30 inches above the long-term average for December.

“Looking over the forecast horizon, we’re expecting it to be below record high, but pretty darn close in May,” she said.

Fry said May 2020 is forecasted to be close to the previous record high set for Lake St. Clair, which is from 1986, but about an inch below the May 2019 level.

“Considering the forecast, it’s important to stay prepared for high water levels,” she said. “We’ll be seeing conditions that are somewhat similar to last year.”

And the forecast could change if the area experiences wetter weather, Fry said.

“It’s a Great Lakes basin-wide condition,” she said.

According to the Army Corps, natural factors are contributing to the continued record lake levels: persistent wet conditions across the Great Lakes basin, with many cities setting records for the wettest period on record in 2019; a warmer than average December that led to greater runoff; and less evaporation off the lakes’ surface.

The water levels of each lake peaked in the summer or fall of 2019 and have been in a seasonal decline, but water levels remain extremely high, with strong storm systems and the resulting large waves leading to substantial erosion.