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Great Lakes water levels higher to start 2020 than in 2019, likely to set new record

Volunteers for the Alliance for the Great Lakes picked up more than 18,000 balloons, balloon pieces or balloon strings along Great Lakes shorelines from 2016 to 2018.
Volunteers for the Alliance for the Great Lakes picked up more than 18,000 balloons, balloon pieces or balloon strings along Great Lakes shorelines from 2016 to 2018.

DETROIT – Water levels on the Great Lakes are higher to start 2020 than they were in 2019 -- a year where many record high water levels were set.

The most recent six-month forecast of Great Lakes water levels shows water levels continuing to be well above average over this period. Unlike last year, lakes Michigan and Huron are forecasted to reach record high levels this year.

“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. “This sets the stage for coastal impacts and damages in 2020 similar to, or worse than, what was experienced last year.”

Several natural factors contribute to the record lake levels. Persistent wet conditions across the Great Lakes basin continue to drive high water levels. Many cities across the basin set records in 2019 for the wettest period on record. The warmer than average temperatures in December led to greater runoff due to snow pack melting, especially on lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron, leading to more water supply. The warm air also caused less evaporation off the lakes’ surface, which leads to more water in the system.

The water levels of each lake peaked during this past summer or fall and since then have been in a seasonal decline, however, significant erosion continues in many locations as water levels remain extremely high. Strong storm systems and resulting large waves have led to substantial erosion along much of the Great Lakes coastline.


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