Below Average Precipitation Helps Lake Levels to Drop

Bill’s Blog

Posted: Jan 16, 2021 / 03:55 AM EST Updated: Jan 16, 2021 / 04:19 AM EST

The above pic. from Steve Damstra shows ice fishing on the Grand River just before sunrise on 1/14/21. The warm weather has made ice fishing opportunities more limited so far this winter.

Ice extent on the Great Lakes 1/15/21

The combined Great Lakes have an ice extent of just 1.8%. Lakes Superior and Michigan are only at 1.5%. Lake Huron has the most at 3.5%. These numbers won’t move dramatically this week.

Downtown Chicago at 5 pm on 1/15/21

This pic. was taken from the Chicago Water Intake, about 2 3/4 miles east of downtown Chicago. The clouds broke up a bit late in the day (pic. taken at 5 pm – after sunset). Chicago has had only 5.4″ of snow so far this winter and Milwaukee (8.9″) has had more snow this winter than Grand Rapids (7.5″). The mild pattern has prevented the usual lake-effect snow in West Michigan.

The water level of Lake Michigan/Huron is down 3″ in the last month. That’s mainly because we’ve had less precipitation. Grand Rapids total of 0.56″ for Jan. 1-15 is half the average precipitation for that period of time. Lake Michigan/Huron is still 31″ higher than the average January level, but it is 4″ below the record high January level of 1987.

The water level of Lake Superior is also down 3″ in the last month and down 7″ in the last year (s significant drop). The level is now 9″ above the January average, but now 6″ below the highest January level set in 1986.

Lake Erie is the only Great Lake that saw an increase – up 1″ in the last month, but still down 5″ since last year. The lake remains 26″ higher than the January average and is 7″ below the record January level of 1987.

Lake Ontario is unchanged in the last month, but it’s down a whopping 16″ in the last year. Note: There is some ability to move the water level of Lake Ontario down, because of a dam downstream in the St. Lawrence River. Ontario is only 2″ higher than the January average level and is now 21″ below the highest January level set in 1935.

Lake St. Clair is down 4″ in the last month and 13″ in the last year (again, a very significant drop). The lake is still 29″ above the January average level.

International Border Crossing 1 16 21 S. Ste. Marie

The pic. above is the International Border Crossing at S. Ste. Marie early Saturday morning. There’s only a few tracks in the snow with the border pretty much closed due to COVID.

The rivers that connect the Great Lakes continue to have well above average flow. The St. Marys River at S. Ste. Marie has a flow of 78,800 cubic feet per second – average flow for Jan. is 67,500 cfs. The Detroit River at Detroit has a flow of 244,000 cfs, compared to a flow of 161,000 cfs. The Soo Locks have now closed for the season.

Most inland rivers have a streamflow a touch above average. The Grand River in Grand Rapids has a flow of 3,170 cfs, compared to an average flow of 3,030 cfs. The Muskegon River at Croton has a flow of 2,210 cfs, compared to an average flow of 2,130 cfs. The Kalamazoo River at Comstock has a flow of 930 cfs, compared to the average flow of 812 cfs. The St. Joseph River is the one river I checked with below average flow – at 2,610 cfs, compared to an average of 3,340 cfs. The Tittawabassee River at Midland has a flow of 1,310 cfs, compared to an average of 1,130 cfs. In Wisconsin the Fox River at Appleton has a flow of 4,320 cfs compared to an average flow of 3,260 cfs.

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