The water level of Lake St. Clair as of Jan. 15 is 13 inches below the same date in 2020, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The water level of Lake St. Clair as of Jan. 15 is 13 inches below the same date in 2020, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

Lake St. Clair down a foot from year-ago levels

Officials still warn about potential for flooding

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published January 22, 2021


LAKE ST. CLAIR — After years of rising lake levels and flooding, the 2020-21 winter is beginning with Lake St. Clair at a lower level, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District.

“This year, 2020, was drier than some of these recent extremely wet years we’ve seen, like 2019. That’s really contributed to all of the lakes being below where they were this time last year,” said Deanna Apps, physical scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District. “This is the time of year where we’re near the seasonal low of water levels. As we get into the spring months, that’s when we experience that seasonal rise in water levels.”

According to the Army Corps weekly Great Lakes water level update of Jan. 15, Lake St. Clair is 13 inches below the level of Jan. 15, 2020, and four inches below its Dec. 15, 2020 level. However, it is still 45 inches above its charted level.

All of the Great Lakes are below the levels of a year ago, but lakes St. Clair and Ontario are the farthest below the levels of January 2020. In the coming month, lakes Erie and St. Clair are forecast to rise slightly, with Lake St. Clair projected to rise by about two inches by Feb. 15.

The lake levels typically decline in the fall because of evaporation, Apps explained, with colder air moving over relatively warmer water. Ice cover can mitigate that evaporation, but the lack of ice on Lake St. Clair isn’t as much of a factor in evaporation because of the higher temperatures the area has been experiencing, she said.

“What we’ve seen these last couple months, especially November and December, (was) the air temperature has been warmer than normal. We haven’t seen as much evaporation. That temperature difference between the lake and the water is not as much,” she said.

The potential for evaporation will continue to exist through the winter months.

“I’m assuming we probably won’t go through this winter without a strong, cold air plunge,” Apps said. “We would likely see some significant evaporation over the lakes. Once the ice forms, that’s when evaporation would cease.”

Even with Lake St. Clair more than a foot lower than 2020, the water level is still high. The Army Corps states that high water levels and potentially record high water levels are expected throughout the Great Lakes for at least the next six months and urges residents to continue to use caution in flood-prone areas.

Flooding is still possible if a storm passes through, Apps said, depending on the amount of precipitation and runoff.

“It’s been fairly dry, and that’s why we’ve seen these lake levels trickling downward,” she said. “Overall, I’d say it’s more likely to see Lake St. Clair moving toward that seasonal rise over the next month or two.

“Continue to be vigilant and take the proper precautions when you’re near the shore, especially as we head into the spring months.”