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GLERL

GreatLakesEnvironmentalResearchLaboratory

Changing water levels can have both positive and negative impacts
on water dependent industries such as commercial shipping. Seen
here, a large cargo vessel waits in the Poe Lock in Sault Ste Marie,
Michigan. NOAA water level data plays a critical role in the operation
of the locks. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Michelle Briggs.

Great Lakes Water Levels - February 2017


The Great Lakes, their connecting waterways, and their watersheds, comprise the largest lake system on the planet. The monthly,
seasonal, and annual average surface water elevations of the lakes fluctuate in response to a variety of factors. Changing water
levels can have both positive and negative impacts on water dependent industries such as shipping, fisheries, tourism and coastal
infrastructure such as coastal roads, piers, and wetlands. NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL)
research on water levels in the Great Lakes analyzes components of the Great Lakes water cycle (runoff, over-lake precipitation,
over-lake evaporation) to improve models, which are used by agencies and industry for water management planning.

What are current Great Lakes Great Lakes Water Levels, 1980-Present

water levels?
184.8
184.4 Superior
184.0
183.6
183.2

Periods of high or low levels for several 182.8


182.4

years at a time are a normal feature of


182.0

Great Lakes water levels dynamics. For


177.8
177.4 Michigan-Huron
Surface Water Elevation (meters)

177.0

most of the Great Lakes (all but Lake


176.6
176.2

Ontario), water levels have been above


175.8
175.4
175.0

average since fall of 2014. Although 175.4


Erie
water levels are not currently near the
175.0
174.6
174.2

record highs of the mid 1980s and 173.8


173.4

late 1990s, along the shores of Lakes


173.0
172.6

Superior, Michigan, and Huron they 76.0


75.6
Ontario

are high relative to the long period


75.2
74.8
74.4

of extreme low levels that ended in 74.0


73.6

2013. Current, historical, and projected


73.2

1980 1990 2000 2010


water levels can be viewed using the Monthly lakewide average water levels (blue dots) from 1980-present. The solid red lines show
Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard at long-term averages from 1918-2016. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 6-month forecast is
www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard. shown as dark red probability bands on the far right, see back for more detailed forecast.

FOR MORE INFORMATION


Drew.gronewold@noaa.gov Historical water level dynamics, 734-741-2444
seasonal projections
Eric.j.anderson@noaa.gov Hourly and daily water level 734-741-2293
forecasts
Brent.lofgren@noaa.gov Multi-decadal water level projections 734-741-2383
The current outlook for Great Lakes water levels - February 2017
The official 6-month forecast generated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 6 indicates that the water
levels of all of the Great Lakes are expected to follow their typical seasonal trends near or above average levels, into
summer of 2017. The forecast suggests that levels on Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron may peak at slightly
lower levels than last year; Lake Erie levels to stay about the same; and levels on Lake Ontario to be higher than last
summer. The Corps forecast is coordinated with Environment and Climate Change Canada each month. (www.lre.usace.
army.mil/Missions/GreatLakesInformation/GreatLakesWaterLevels/WaterLevelForecast/MonthlyBulletinofGreatLakesWaterLevels.aspx).

606
Lake Superior
184
602
183
598
182
Surface Water Elevation (meters, IGLD85)

Surface Water Elevation (feet, IGLD85)


178 Lake MichiganHuron 584

177


580

176
576
Lake Erie
175
572
174

173 568

Lake Ontario 250


76


75
246

74
242

Past
1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 Future
Observations Forecasts

}
95% 3month ahead forecasts 95%
5% }
J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J
monthly average water level
2016 2017
longterm mean water level 50% Forecast for February
(18602015)
for past 13 months
5% through July 2017

The uncertainty expressed in the forecast shown above is based on observed weather patterns and Great Lakes water levels, along with NOAA
Climate Prediction Centers regional forecasts. The 5% and 95% bands are expected to contain the observed water level 90% of the time.

How are water levels predicted in the Great Lakes?


Forecasts of Great Lakes monthly-average water levels are based on computer simulation models, including some from NOAA GLERL,
along with more than 100 years of data from past weather and water level conditions. The official 6-month forecast is produced
each month through a binational partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environment and Climate Change
Canada. NOAA GLERLs research on the water balance of the Great Lakes plays an important role in improving these forecasts. The
most important variables are over-lake precipitation, over-lake evaporation, and runoff. NOAA GLERL is doing cutting-edge research
through modeling and observations to better quantify over-lake evaporationthe most uncertain aspect of predicting lake levels.
The sum of these variables (net supply of water to the basin) is routed through the lakes and connecting channels to produce a
probabilistic water level forecast.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Connect with


Connect with us!
us!
Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
4840 S. State Rd. Ann Arbor, MI 48108
www.glerl.noaa.gov