04 March 2013

Great Lakes water levels may be up slightly, but still many boating hazards

Story first appeared on The Detroit News -

Great Lakes Michigan and Huron in February bounced back slightly from all-time record lows set in January, according to preliminary numbers released Friday.

After a month of seemingly-continuous snow and rain, preliminary numbers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show that Lake Huron and Lake Michigan finished above the all-time low mean for February.

Through the month's 28 days, Lakes Michigan and Huron posted means of 600.26 feet above sea level. The all-time lows mean for February came in 1926, when the lakes measured 599.60 feet.

That's a far more positive story than the numbers the lakes posted in January.

For that month, Lakes Michigan and Huron recorded their lowest-ever levels, with a mean of 576.02 feet above sea level. It's a number that dipped below the previous all-time low for January — 576.12 feet — as well as the all-time low for any month, 576.05 feet in March 1964.

Low lake levels can spell trouble for boaters who can wreck propellers and damage their vessels by scraping bottom in shallow waters.

"I have a feeling that boaters are going to be shocked how low the lake levels are," Andrey Duzyj said. The 58-year-old Warren resident owns a Sea Ray Sundancer and often ventures out on Lake St. Clair.

"If you own a boat be very, very careful and have your insurance ready. I have a feeling it's going to be a banner year for the salvage industry and those who help boaters get out of trouble."

"There will be no new record set this month," said John Allis, chief of the Army Corps' Great Lakes hydraulics and hydrology office.

In recent years, dropping water levels in each of the Great Lakes have become a major problem. The water loss is the result of years of drought-like conditions compounded by a 2011-2012 winter that was light on snow.

It's a situation that has impacted shore front properties, recreational boating and industrial shipping. And earlier this month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced plans to allot $21 million in dredging funds in the new state budget.

Despite the slight uptick, each of the Great Lakes now sits well below their long-term mean for February.

  • Lake Superior's February mean was 600.26 feet, below its long-term average of 601.30.
  • Lake Michigan Huron's February mean of 576.15 feet, below the long-term average of 578.40.
  • Lake St. Clair's February mean of 572.64 feet is below the long-term average of 573.40.
  • Lake Erie's February mean of 570.41 feet is below the long-term average of 570.80.
  • Lake Ontario's February mean of 244.49 feet is below the long-term average of 244.80.

The snow and ice that accumulate in the upper Great Lakes during the late fall and winter, particularly in and around Lake Superior, create the runoff that dictates how high levels climb or how low they will sink during the year.

While this year's snowfall has been much more Michigan-like that what was seen last year, it will take much snowfall this winter and rainfall this spring to bring the lakes closer to normal.

"It's looking like we've had a pretty much average precipitation over this winter, which is good," Allis said. "So we would expect that would help fuel a typical seasonal rise in the lakes this spring - something we didn't see last year. That's the good news.

"The bad news is since we're still just barely above record lows; it's going to take sustained periods of wet weather for the lakes to get back up near their long-term average."

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