Lakes Michigan and Huron Fall to Record Lows

Water levels reached record lows for the month of December on Lakes Michigan and Huron. Photo by Lisa Borre.

It looks like low water levels on the Great Lakes will be added to the record-breaking climate-related events of 2012.

The water level on Lakes Michigan and Huron dropped another 2.5 inches (6 cm) in December, unofficially breaking a nearly 50-year-old record for the month. Last month’s average for both lakes – considered one lake for the purposes of hydrologic studies because of the connection at the Straits of Mackinac – was 576.15 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) water level report. This is about a half-inch below the record for the same month set in 1964 since the USACE began keeping coordinated records in 1918.

Lake Superior continues to hover about six inches (16 cm) above record low water levels set in 1925. USACE forecasts for all of the Great Lakes predict that water levels will remain below the long-term average for the next few months.

As explained in a previous post about how climate change and variability affect low water levels on the Great Lakes, evaporation normally exceeds precipitation and runoff at this time of year. Human-induced climate change is likely making a bad situation worse by affecting factors that control water supply to the Great Lakes, including a severe drought in 2012, warming water temperatures, increased evaporation rates, loss of ice cover, and changing precipitation patterns.

Lisa Borre is a lake conservationist, writer and avid sailor. A native of the Great Lakes region, she served as coordinator of the Lake Champlain Basin Program in the 1990s and co-founded LakeNet, a world lakes network that was active from 1998-2008. She is now a Senior Research Specialist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and an active member of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON). She is also on the board of directors of the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS), the advisory council of the Lake Champlain Committee, and an associate investigator with the SAFER Project: Sensing the Americas' Freshwater Ecosystem Risk from Climate Change. She writes about global lake topics for National Geographic's Water Currents blog and speaks to local, regional and international groups about the impacts of climate change on lakes. With her husband, she wrote a sailing guide to the Black Sea based on their voyage there in 2010.
  • Betsy

    Bad news for now on the Great Lakes water levels. I am reading more and more about dredging projects … And wonder about the impacts of that action?

  • Chuck Currie

    “…climate change and variability affect low water levels on the Great Lakes…”

    What a brilliant observation.

    Maybe you could enlighten us with a description of the climate conditions in 1925 – compare and contrast to 2012 – when the lake(s) were 6 inches lower.


  • Keasha Palmer

    Lisa, this is a great photo and very indicative of what I’m seeing everywhere on lakes in Michigan, including all the little inland ones…very scary.

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