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Lakes Huron, Michigan water levels to top records by 2-5 inches through August

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron are expected to break records through the summer, while other Great Lakes may see some relief from 2020's extreme highs, according to new projections.  

A six-month lake level forecast from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers on Monday shows that Lakes Michigan and Huron are expected to be 2-5 inches above record levels through August.

By September, the lakes are expected to decline to near-record levels and then 7-9 inches below records in October and November. The lakes' May levels were 8 inches above last year's. 

Leland's Fishtown, where some shanties along the Leland River have been close to flooding this spring, is threatened by Lake Michigan's ever-increasing water levels.

"The key takeaway for Michigan/Huron is levels are extremely high, above the recorded maximums," said John Allis, the chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District. Allis made the forecast Monday during a webinar on lake levels.

"We still expect that to be a continued major issue. We really think that will continue summer into fall."

Lakes Michigan, Huron, St. Clair and Erie broke monthly water level records in May previously set in 1986, Army Corps officials said. Lakes Michigan-Huron and St. Clair broke all-time high marks by 4 inches, while Lake Erie topped its record by 1 inch. The lakes set monthly records in April, too.

The six-month forecast shows record-breaking levels will be less likely for lakes Superior, St. Clair, Erie and Ontario, although they still will be above normal: 

  • Lake Superior is expected to drop 3-7 inches below record highs through November. 
  • Lake St. Clair is predicted to be an inch below record highs in June, as many as 2 inches below records in July through September and up to 9 inches below highs in October and November. 
  • Lake Erie is forecast to be 2-4 inches below highs in June through September, then up to 9 inches below records in October and November. 
  • Lake Ontario is expected to be up to 23 inches below record high levels, but up to 11 inches above normal. 

Some lake levels have declined because of the lack of rain in the area, following 2019's record rainfall, said Jeffrey Andresen, a professor of geography at Michigan State University. 

"The (Great Lakes) basin has actually dropped off not only from the record levels that we saw last year but actually below the long-term normal," he said. "The water into the landscape, the supply has really fallen off here over the last couple months."

Rising lake levels have posed problems for some Michigan marinas and have threatened the loss of lakefront property during the past year or so. The high lake levels have led to higher water levels in connecting inland rivers and streams. 

A temporary dock and walkway for the Sheriffs boats sits over the sidewalk, now a foot underwater at the launch at Elizabeth Park in Trenton.

The sustained record-breaking lake levels have forced the National Weather Service to look at retooling the conditions for issuing flood warnings, watches and advisories. 

"There is almost a new normal because some areas are just constantly flooded that normally wouldn’t when levels were lower a few years ago," said Gary Garnet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Cleveland. 

Staff Writer Leonard N. Fleming contributed to this report.