The Great Lakes have experienced a harsh winter. Michigan and the surrounding states have been plummeted with triple the amount of snow that occurs in a normal year. The areas have hit record-breaking lows, reaching well below zero. Pair that with extremely low wind chill levels, and it creates what is known as a polar vortex. There is a side benefit to the arctic air, though. Great Lakes water levels are expected to rise thanks to the frigid winter.
A report by Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA) shows how the cold weather and excessive snow on the lakes determine the water level once it has melted. Along with the University of Michigan and Michigan State, GLISA discovered that the preceding season can help predict weather patterns and the expected water level.
The fall season actually shows how much ice is expected to build up over the Great Lakes based on the amount of evaporation that takes place. Researchers know this because the lakes lose heat from evaporation. Many factors are involved in the water level trends. El Niño is still thought to be responsible for today’s warmer lake temperatures, for example, even though it occurred in 1997.
The Great Lakes have experienced a few trends relating to the water levels over the past 50 years. Frigid winter temperatures may create an increase in 2014, but recent years have show an increase in ice coverage, a higher level of evaporation and growing temperatures in general.
These trends fluctuate as they continue in the same direction. Changes occur due to extreme weather conditions and record-breaking snowfall. The polar vortex that hit the Great Lakes region this month is an example of these fluctuations. The cold weather that blanketed the area is expected to create higher water levels this summer, however, which is good news for industries that depend on the Great Lakes. Once the weather breaks and the ice melts, the Great Lakes water levels are expected to rise. Thanks to the frigid winter, the area is expected to dodge a drought this year.
While these changes in water level do not make much of a difference to the average beach goer, they are significant in terms of agriculture and other industries that depend on using the waterways. The Great Lakes cover over 94,000 square miles and make up 90 percent of the freshwater in the United States, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.) When the water levels of the Great Lakes are down, it can create a host of problems.
In 2013, the Great Lakes experienced the lowest water levels on record since 1918. Such lows create a drought, which affects many areas. There is an economic impact associated with the declining water levels. It causes damage to fish and vegetation, puts a damper on tourism and reduces automotive production, as barges are required to lighten their load and carry fewer raw materials needed for producing new cars.
Despite having to tolerate the arctic temperatures and record high snowfall this winter, there is a side benefit. Once the snow and ice melt, the Great Lakes water levels are expected to rise thanks to the frigid temperatures.
By Tracy Rose