Record High Water Levels – Why?
Posted on: December 4, 2019
U.S. Army Corps Water Levels Video
Click here to proceed to a 2’49” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers video providing very clear information about why Lake Superior water levels are high.

An endless stream of articles on Superior’s record high water levels has been published. How about publishing an article on why? Why, that is, water levels are this high in the first place.

In a recent Washington Post article, meteorologist and climate scientist Kim Frauhammer nicely answers this question. A link to this excellent, in-depth article is included below. Meanwhile, here is a snapshot providing key article takeaways about “why” Superior’s water levels are so high: 

  • high levels of precipitation in the Lake Superior region over the last several months (including record precipitation for the Great Lakes Basin, April through June)
  • high rates of Superior watershed spring run-off due to high winter precipitation (the article notes an ongoing factor, the lag between precipitation, or lack thereof, and water levels).

Frauhammer touches on climate change but points out that this factor is complex, not a simple, linear factor. For example, she notes that climate is something of a double-edged sword and that:

  • the Great Lakes region has seen a 10% increase in precipitation between 1901 and 2015
  • a warm atmosphere can hold more water, leading to increased precipitation
  • conversely, warm air and water can also lead to increased evaporation, leading to an increased rate of water level decline, as observed during lower water levels in 2013.

So, what is the article’s conclusion… more record highs or rapid declines? The answer is both. According to Kim Frauhammer, expect instability, manifested through erratic year to year swings between highs and lows.

Read the full Washington Post article here.

Projected Lake Superior water levels.
What about the future? The graphic above shows projected water levels through the next 6 months into spring, 2020. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Data Graphic.

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