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E-M:/ GLIN Content:/ Possible Record Low Great Lakes Water Levels

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Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 17:11:43 -0500
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Posted on behalf of John Karl <jkarl@aqua.wisc.edu>


For More Information:

Philip Keillor, coastal engineering specialist, University of Wisconsin
Sea Grant Institute, (608) 263-5133

John Karl, science writer, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute,
(608) 263-8621



MADISON, Wis. (2/20/03)-Unusually low water levels in the Great Lakes
for this time of year may combine with lingering El Nino conditions to
yield the lowest summertime water levels in decades, according to Philip
Keillor, coastal engineering specialist at the University of Wisconsin
Sea Grant Institute.

"This is the first time since the 1960s we've had such low late-winter
water levels on Lake Michigan coinciding with El Nino conditions,"
Keillor said. "The last time that happened, we had some of the lowest
water levels on record."

El Nino conditions occur every three to four years, and they usually
bring warmer and drier-than-average weather.  That's been the case so
far this winter, Keillor said, and it will probably hold true into
spring, keeping water levels down.

As of last week, all of the lakes were lower than last year at this
time, according to Marie Strum, water resource engineer with the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit.  Lake Michigan was six to seven
inches below last year's levels and 22 inches below average for
February.  Lake Superior was two inches lower than last year and eight
inches below average for February.

Water on the Great Lakes normally cycles from a low in the winter to a
peak in the summer.

The Corps of Engineers predicts Lake Michigan will peak this summer
between six inches above and two inches below its 2001 high water mark,
which was its lowest since the 1960s. The lake generally peaks around
mid July.

Lake Superior is predicted to peak within five inches of its 2000 high
water mark, which was the lowest peak for that lake since the 1920s.
Lake Superior usually peaks in late August.

During most springs, the lakes rise from melting snow and rain. But both
sources of water may be in short supply this spring.

So far this winter, little snow has fallen in the Great Lakes basin.
Precipitation across the basin was 25 percent below average in November,
29 percent below average in December and 41 percent below average in
January, the corps reported.

Compounding the problem are very dry soils in much of the Great Lakes
basin, according to Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation
Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.   Dry soil will absorb
more melted snow and rainwater than usual, leaving less to replenish the
lakes, Svoboda said.

High rates of evaporation this winter have contributed to the current
low lake levels.  This winter's warm weather has been punctuated by
several bursts of very cold, dry weather, producing ideal conditions for
evaporation.  Evaporation on the lakes is greatest when the water is
warm and overlying air is cold and dry.

The mild winter has also limited ice cover on the lakes, further
promoting evaporation.

# # # #

Created in 1966, Sea Grant is a national network of 29 university-based
programs of research, outreach, and education dedicated to the
protection and sustainable use of the United States' coastal, ocean, and
Great Lakes resources.  The National Sea Grant Network is a partnership
of participating coastal states, private industry, and the National Sea
Grant College Program, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration,
U.S. Department of Commerce.


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