U.S. Water News Online
DULUTH, Minn. -- Even as other great lakes appear headed to
an all-time low level this month, Lake Superior is holding its own
and seems to be recovering from a drought that dropped the lake to
Lake Superior's water level dropped by two inches in December,
less than the usual 3-inch decline for the last month of the year. It
now sits 11 inches below the long-term average, but is six inches
above the level of one year ago, according to the International Lake
Superior Board of Control.
The amount of rain and snow that fell on the Lake Superior basin
in December was well above normal, with Duluth recording its
sixth-snowiest December of all time. That came on the heels of a
near-record wet October.
Since September, Lake Superior has mostly been climbing away from
the all-time monthly lows set in August and September. That rise has
seemed to coincide with a 14-month-long drought in the region, though
it's too early to determine if a nearly three-year drier-than-average
spell has ended.
Lake Superior is expected to continue to drop throughout the
winter, which is normal, before beginning its annual rise sometime in
April. But it's looking less likely that the lake will fall below the
all-time record low level set in April 1926, said Cynthia Sellinger,
deputy director of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"It's higher than it was last year," Sellinger said. "But it is
also warmer, which means less ice" -- and probably more evaporation
in the winter, which could result in yet greater declines if winter
storm systems from the west, instead of precipitation driven by the
lake effect, don't keep up.
Lakes Michigan and Huron declined by their usual two inches in
December and now sit a whopping 26 and 13 inches, respectively, below
the Jan. 1 level of last year. Experts think it's possible both lakes
could beat their all-time record lows, set in March 1964, when the
January monthly average level is figured at month's end.
A U.S.-Canadian panel is studying why the Great Lakes have been
lower in recent years, looking at factors including climate change,
natural drought cycles, man-made channels, dam regulation and other
Whatever the cause, low lake levels have hampered recreational
boating and the maritime industry, which has been forced to reduce
loads and avoid areas at some ports.
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