Lake Superior hit its highest level ever recorded entering February as the big lake continues its high-water trend heading toward spring.
The International Lake Superior Board of Control reported Tuesday that Lake Superior’s average water level was a half-inch higher than the previous February record, set in 1986.
The big lake dropped only 2 inches in February, a month it usually drops 3, thanks to a continued wet period across the lake’s big watershed. Lake Superior now is 15 inches above its long-term average and is 4 inches above the Feb. 1 level in 2019.
The high-water trend means continued bad news for coastal residents due to increased erosion, especially during storms and heavy wave action, a problem that’s already caused millions of dollars in damage in Duluth and along the South Shore.
It also sets the lake up for continued record levels and perhaps an all-time high-water record sometime in late summer or early fall when the lake traditionally hits its annual high-water mark before dropping each winter.
The problems of high water cross all five Great Lakes. Lakes Michigan and Huron also hit their all-time high Feb. 1 watermark and are now 19 inches above Feb. 1 last year and 39 inches — more than 3 feet — above average for this time of year.
“With all of the Great Lakes near or above record-highs for this time of year, there is an exceptional volume of water in the system,” the Board noted in its report Tuesday. “Water levels are expected to remain high over at least the next several months and further record-highs are possible if wet conditions continue in 2020. As a result, there will continue to be a significantly increased risk of shoreline erosion, lakeshore flooding and coastal damages over the next several weeks and into the spring.”
More heavy snowstorms or heavy spring rains could push problems to a new level, as could spring windstorms that whip the lake into a frenzy.
The Board again warned Lake Superior shoreline communities “to prepare for potentially severe coastal impacts, especially during periods of strong winds and high waves.”
The Board recently received approval from the International Joint Commission to deviate from Lake Superior Regulation Plan 2012 through this winter. A small amount of additional flow will be released out of Lake Superior through the St. Marys Rapids this winter to offset expected and potential unscheduled reductions in flows at the hydropower plants that often occur in challenging winter conditions.