Great Lakes water levels for the summer of 2014 - what’s up (or not)?

In January of 2013, Lake Michigan recorded an unprecedented low lake level. This past winter we set records for snowfall and low temperatures. What’s the forecast for summer 2014 lake levels?

Monthly Bulletin of Great Lakes Water Levels produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Monthly Bulletin of Great Lakes Water Levels produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

We’re coming out of a particularly long, cold and snowy winter, so it’s only natural for our thoughts to turn to summer fun. In Michigan, summer often means fun on the water, including our Great Lakes waters, so with the extreme winter we had, and in light of recent low water levels, how do the lakes look for this summer?

We have reviewed why Great Lakes water levels change over different periods of time in earlier Michigan State University Extension articles (What’s up [or not], with Great Lakes water levels/Part 1, What’s up [or not] with Great Lakes water levels/Part 2), but what about this year?  Actually, it’s easy for anyone to discover and understand what this summer’s lake levels are likely to be.

Current information on Great Lakes hydrology, and projections that extend six months into the future, are available to anyone online through the “Monthly Bulletin of Great Lakes Water Levels”, produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory has developed an online “Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard”, which allows anyone to access and graphically manipulate a variety of historical datasets, dating back into the 1800’s. You may also view current conditions, as well as forecasts both short-term and long. The “Monthly Bulletin” will suffice to answer our question about this summer’s water levels. Here’s what to expect for each of the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair.

Lake Superior: In 2012, Lake Superior levels peaked in July, at 601.4 feet above sea level. In 2013, Superior peaked in September at approximately 602 feet. These compare with the long-term average (1918-2013) summer maximum for Superior of approximately 602.2 feet. The projection for the summer of 2014 is a maximum of approximately 602 feet (same as 2013) but occurring in August.

Lakes Michigan and Huron: These lakes share a common water level thanks to the Straits of Mackinac, and are considered one lake, hydrologically. In 2012, Michigan/Huron levels peaked in June at 577.7 feet above sea level. In 2013, their levels peaked in July at 577.8 feet (after setting a record January low seven months previously). These levels compare with the long-term summer maximum average of approximately 579.3 feet, which typically takes place in July. The projection for the summer 2014 maximum is 578.4 – up from the past two years, but still below the long-term mean.

Lake St. Clair: Lake St. Clair is not a Great Lake, per se, but rather one of connecting waterways linking the Great Lakes. It is often called the best muskie fishing lake in North America, and Bassmaster Magazine ranked it #1 on its list of Best Bass Lakes of 2013, so it does have a lot going for it!  As for its water levels, the summer peak in 2012 took place April-June at 574.2 feet above sea level, while the 2013 maximum took place in July at 574.6 feet. These compare with the long-term average summer maximum of 574.8. For 2014, the forecast is for a peak in July at 574.5 feet above sea level, just slightly below the mean.

Lake Erie: Lake Erie’s 2012 summer maximum was 571.9 feet above sea level in April. In 2013, it was 2 inches higher in July. The long-term average maximum is 571.9, usually reached in June. For 2013, the forecast is a high of 571.7, down just a bit from last year.

Lake Ontario: Michigan has shoreline on all the Great Lakes but Ontario, which empties into the St. Lawrence River, and leads to the Atlantic Ocean. Lake Ontario’s 2012 maximum 245.5 feet above sea level was reached in April. In 2013, the maximum was 246.3 in July, exceeding the long-term average of 246.1, which is typically reached in June. This year, the peak is expected to reach 245.9 in June.

As the above information shows, 2014 Great Lakes water levels are generally up compared with the past two years, and should afford plenty of opportunities for recreational activities of all kinds. Enjoy your time on our Great Lakes this summer!

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