Great Lakes Water Levels

September 5th, 2013 at 8:12 pm by under Bill's Blog, Weather

Lake Michigan Jack Martin thru the tall grass   Here’s another great pic. from Jack Martin taken at Lake Michigan Thurs. AM.   To me, the most striking number on the weekly update is the continued phenomenal rise in the water level of Lake Superior.  This is a big lake.  Each inch of water gained on Lake Superior represents 552 billion gallons of water.  Lake Superior is up 2″ in the last month (at a time when the lake level is usually falling) and is now only one inch below the average September level.  It’s 10″ higher than it was one year ago (so an increase of 5.52 TRILLION gallons.  Superior is now 19″ above the lowest September level and just 14″ below the highest level ever for September.  The huge increase in the water level of Lake Superior has allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to increase the water coming down the St. Mary’s River by nearly 20%.  This will help with the water level of Lake Michigan/Huron, which is down one inch in the past month.  However, Lake Michigan/Huron is 5″ higher than it was one year ago and 12″ above the lowest September level reached in 1964.   Lake St. Clair is up 7″ year-to-year, Lake Erie is up 9″ in the past year and Lake Ontario is 13″ higher than it was one year ago.  Lake Erie is 2″ above the century Sept. average and Lake Ontario is now 6″ higher than the long-term average.

Of course, if you were reading The Guardian or the Charlotte Star, you read a story that was quite outdated and had the usual climate change hyperbole.  Their article says:  “As the lakes slowly dry up, billions of dollars generated by industry and tourism are at risk.”

Lazy and/or biased reporting here.  You can get the weekly Great Lakes water levels here and as you can see, the Great Lakes are not “slowly drying up”.   Here’s Lake Michigan water levels from 1918-2010.  You can see the level goes up and down and bears no resemblance to the slow, steady rise of atmospheric CO2.  Side note…a quote from H.L Mencken:  “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

21 Responses to “Great Lakes Water Levels”

  1. DF (SE Mich) says:

    Soon above the 100 year average will still be drying up…

  2. Brad (Van Buren) says:

    Beautiful warm weather we are having Bill. So far, it’s looking to be a great fall, my favorite time of the year. Keep this warm weather for a few more weekends so I can work my weekend job, then the cool crisp air can come for fall, looking forward to it. I love Michigan’s seasonal changes. Apples, Pumpkins, and colorful leaves…

  3. Brad says:

    What’s interesting is your “phenomenal” rise in Lake Superior water levels also appears to be within the normal range of variation expressed in the long-term data set. That said, I agree about the lazy reporting. It reminds me of reports of the “violent” right-to-work protests in Lansing that failed to account for the >99% peaceful nature of the event and the spatially localized vandalism. Sometimes, it’s just too easy to ride a familiar meme to sell newspapers (and newscasts).

    1. Bill Steffen says:

      How you do figure that the rise is “within the normal range of variation”? Show me a list of years when the water level of Lake Superior rose 10″ from Sept. 1 to Sept 1 the following year.

      The violence and overt racism of a group of union members was a story. We don’t report on “normal” events like “today, no planes crashed”. What makes news is the exceptional.

      1. Brad says:

        You’re the one who made the claim, Bill, so you need to define what you mean by “phenomenal” so we can analyze the data. The hydrograph for LSJ water levels shows many rapid increases.

        Second, you just defended marketing the exceptional as the normal. That’s dangerous and misleading. And I do not recall any racist stuff happening at the rally (show me a story if you have one that demonstrates racism).

        1. Bill Steffen says:

          Ha! Can’t do it, can you Brad. You made a statement that you have no idea how to back up and now you squirm and try to move in a different direction. I again challenge you to defend your statement that the rise is “within the normal range of variation”. Again we’re talking a 10″ YEAR-TO-YEAR increase in Lake Superior’s water level (not an annual spring rise and autumnal fall).

          I’m just stating the obvious fact that the routine isn’t news. You can talk to Clint Tarver himself if you like:

      2. Brad says:

        I’m not squirming at all. Here’s the hydrograph for LS water levels.

        If you find a user-friendly dataset to look at single-year increases in water level, let me know.

        It’s a common mistake in discussion for the person who makes a claim to insist that the burden of proof is on the dissenter. And I’m not even really dissenting, just asking what is so special about the increase in lake level relative to what has happened over the past century. You can fantasize over “squirming” and that you’re in some debate league somewhere, but I didn’t ask for hyperbole or illusions of grandeur.

        1. Brad says:

          (And, yes, before you point it out, I do realize the last two years are not plotted, and that said plotlines would approach, but not reach, the “average” line on the chart).

        2. Bill Steffen says:

          Lake Superior is now 1″ below the long-term average (hardly indicative of a global warming disaster). Your graph has a lot of time bunched together and it’s hard to tell if there has ever been a 10″ gain in the water level YEAR-TO-YEAR (not over several or many years and not the usual annual rise in spring and fall in autumn). I’ll give you a little help. The raw numbers can be found here: After you go thru the data, make a list and leave a comment with all of the 10″ year-to-year increases in the Lake Superior Water Level. Then, I’ll go back and check them, too.

        3. Brad says:

          It would be cool if these data were in a more interactive format. Thanks for the link, nonetheless. I’m not sure if there has been a 10″ gain year-to-year either, but the hydrograph suggested the possibility, so that’s what spurred the comment. It would probably be better to look at rates of increase during the “growth” phases.

  4. Robert says:

    Once again Bill, thanks for sharing honest facts about what is really happening with the climate and the Great Lakes. People like Brad are after liberal media bias (there is plenty of it) and I for one really appreciate someone who just reports the facts as they are, not as they “wish” they were. No need to “over” explain yourself on this blog, we appreciate honesty!

    1. Brad says:

      Robert, I did not author the articles Bill linked to, and I actually agree about the laziness of the articles, so I’m not sure where you’re coming from linking me to “liberal media bias,” a tired meme itself. Rather, I asked Bill in a non-confrontational manner to defend his description of the “phenomenal rise” in lake levels. I.e., I am asking Bill to quantify what he means by “phenomenal” by providing more numbers related to the dataset. If those numbers are not available or will take too much time to review, so be it, but I asked my question out of curiosity and I ask that next time you do not jump so quickly to throw out the insults (Bill said he doesn’t like those).

      1. Bill Steffen says:

        This article: says that “All of the Great Lakes water levels have risen dramatically” and “increased rapidly”. It quotes an Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson as saying that the water level of Lakes Michigan/Huron and Superior had their 5th greatest January to June rise in 96 years. Superior is up since June at a time when the lake level is usually falling.

        1. Bill Steffen says:

          This article: From the article:

          The board (Lake Superior Board of Control) reports a rise of 24 cm, “the second highest since 1918, a result of snow melt and above-average precipitation.”

        2. Brad says:

          Right, that was May-specific though.

        3. Bill Steffen says:


          Here’s another article: which states: “Lake Superior has had the 2nd biggest spring water level rise in recorded (back to 1918) history. It’s also up 4″ in the last month (each inch is 552 billion gallons!) and is now six inches below the long-term average.”

          Note that Lake Superior has gained another 5″ relative to average since this article came out.

        4. Robert says:

          Bill, can’t you see it doesn’t matter what you post? Once again, thanks for the factual posts that validate the ignorance of so many.

  5. Ken says:

    Great quote – thanks!

  6. kevin. w says:

    The weather channel this morning said that the trough in the west will nudge a little further east over the next several weeks into the northern plains/great lakes. There stating that there is the possibility of a hurricane going up the eastern seaboard with the type of pattern setting up. Also stating that heavy rains will be focusing on plains/great lakes after mid month as colder air will start clashing with very warm humid air to the southeast as a storm track sets up our way. So now that they say that, I went to some of the longer range models and the new CFS2, Euro and GFS now show alot of stormy weather right around 18th and into early October and it also shows snow north of the U.S. Canadian border the first week of October. ANY THOUGHTS ON THAT BILL.

    1. Bill Steffen says:

      That looks very plausible…a warm Sept….and an abrupt change to cool from north to south in early-mid Oct. I can certainly see decent accumulating snow along the border in early Oct.

  7. Psalmon says:


    According to the Army Corps of Engineers August 2013 report, Superior and Michigan-Huron had the 5th highest a Jan-June rise in 96 years, 11 inches, Table 1 here:

    Since June, Superior has risen another 6-8 inches according to NOAA. Not sure where THAT ranks, but there’s the data set and “phenomenal” appears appropriate.

    Good work Bill, Thanks.

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