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January 2020 was record-high month for Great Lakes water levels

Water levels 3 inches higher than January 2019

Satellite image of the Great Lakes from space on April 24, 2000.
Satellite image of the Great Lakes from space on April 24, 2000. (NASA)

DETROIT – The January 2020 mean water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron and Lake Superior were three inches higher than the previous January record level, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported.

More high level records are expected in the coming months, with Lake Michigan-Huron (the combined waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron) predicted to break its monthly mean record-high levels every month from February to July by 4-7 inches.

  • Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior set new high-water records in January.
  • No records were set on lakes Erie or Ontario, but levels were much higher than average.
  • Water levels should remain high and might set more records over the next six months.
  • View: Great Lakes water levels for January 2020

Rising water levels have been an ongoing issue in Michigan, with the high water levels and storms causing beach erosion, flooding and damage to sea walls and roads. An October 2019 storm damaged the shoreline near Spring Lake, Michigan and swept away 20 feet of sand dunes in the community.

A house along Lake Michigan shoreline, plagued by erosion, fell down a bluff in January.

“Over the past two decades, water levels on the Great Lakes have gone through an unprecedented period of persistent below-average conditions, a record-setting rate of water level rise and, now, a series of record-setting high levels,” Drew Gronewold, associate professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor said in a statement. “These changes are a response to unusual combinations of extreme lake evaporation, persistent increases in the magnitude and intensity of precipitation events, and intermittent outbursts of cold arctic air.”

Richard Rood, professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the University of Michigan, said climate change and the events happening throughout areas surrounded by the Great Lakes are linked.

“The climate is at the beginning of decades of rapid change,” he said. “To anticipate the new extremes we will experience, we need to design plausible climate scenarios and study how we should alter our planning and management. This is not our parent’s climate; it is not even the climate of my childhood.”

Lake Superior also set a record for monthly mean water level in January, according to the agency. Superior is projected to exceed its record-high water level in February and tie its March record high.

The University of Michigan is offering a course through the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts discussing the history of the Great Lakes and the challenges the region currently faces.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Great Lakes make up 84 percent of surface fresh water in North America.

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