Great Lakes temps rise amid summer heat wave

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

As Michigan basks in summer heat this month, the Great Lakes also are warming up faster than usual, researchers say.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory predict the water temperatures “rising a few degrees” in early July.

According to the group’s Great Lakes Forecasting System, the average lake-wide surface temperature on Thursday for Lake Superior was 58.23 degrees Fahrenheit, while Huron notched 67.39. 

Michigan was 69.77, Erie hit 74.19 and Ontario climbed to 66.58. Readings for Lake St. Clair were not listed or available on the website.

A year earlier, the average temperatures were about 51 for Superior; Huron, 61; Michigan, 65; Erie, 72; and Ontario, 64.

Grand Portal Point can be seen from an overlook along the North Country Trail. The cliffs rise some 200 feet above Lake Superior in this part of the park. It's about a 3.5 mile hike to this location from the Chapel Basin trailhead and part of a 10-mile loop. One of the best hikes in the state.

This week, the numbers could shift even more, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory reports.

Its projections called for readings Tuesday to reach the 60s along the Superior shore near Houghton in the Upper Peninsula. The low 70s are expected in much of Lake Michigan, from Manistee to St. Joseph, as well as Ontario; and the upper 70s in the Huron waters closest to Bay City and the Erie waves off Toledo.

Experts say the spikes aren’t unusual as the region ushers in its warmest weather of the year. NOAA data shows the Great Lakes typically reach their peak surface temperatures in August or later. 

“Normally there’s a little bit of a lag because water warms differently from air,” said Dave Gurney, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service station in White Lake Township.

The rest of the season could determine if the temperatures top out earlier or longer, he said, but the first heat wave of the season striking the Midwest and southeast Michigan also can play a role.

Detroit Metro Airport has daily recorded highs above 80 since June 25, according to weather service data. Preliminary models forecast the mercury hovering in the 90s at least through next weekend, Gurney said.

“We have an area of high pressure that has been stuck over the eastern half of the U.S. It’s been locked and place and not moving,” he said.

Since the sultry conditions likely will steer residents to the state’s beaches and lakes for watery relief, safety advocates are warning them to beware the dangers, and not just worries about social distancing because of the coronavirus.

The nonprofit Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project reports there have been 20 Great Lakes drownings so far in 2020, and the numbers could climb in the summer’s warmest months as people fail to prepare for hazards such as rip currents, said executive director Dave Benjamin.

Monitoring for other issues also is key, he said. “Even if there’s calm water and a light breeze, inflatable beach toys can go out in the water and kids could chase it into water over their head.”

That’s why sun-seekers flocking to the waters for swimming, boating or even walks on the pier should bring fitted life-jackets and flotation devices, said Jamie Racklyeft, executive director of the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium.

“They absolutely save lives.”