Lake Superior dropped more than usual in January
Lake Superior fell a little farther away from record levels in January, according to the International Lake Superior Board of Control.
The big lake dropped about 2.8 inches in January, slightly more than it usually drops for the month. As of Feb. 1, the lake sat 11 inches above normal but 2 inches lower than at this time in 2018.
Lakes Michigan and Huron also dropped more than the usual amount in January but remain 20 inches above normal and 2 inches above the Feb. 1 level last year.
Great Lakes water levels experts recently released their long-term forecast for the lakes which includes a broad range of possibilities — from continuing to drop to near-normal levels to rising to near-record monthly levels by summer.
Lake Superior generally declines from October into April and then rises to September. The all-time record high occurred in October 1985, although some monthly records have been set since then. The all-time record low occured in April 1926.
For the longer term, the trend of above-normal water levels for Lake Superior that's been underway since 2014 will continue, experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Detroit said in their recent long-term forecast for the Great Lakes.
Charles Sidick, the Corps' Lake Superior forecaster, said it would take near-record levels of snow and rain in coming months for Lake Superior to top any monthly water level records. If precipitation totals were in the top 5 percent of all time, it's possible Lake Superior could break a monthly record, but not the all-time record, by June.
With more normal rain and snow levels in coming months, it's likely the big lake will continue to be above normal but won't hit any records, said Lauren Fry, another Corps of Engineers hydrologist.
"It's not likely to hit that record territory, barring something really unusual for precipitation. But it is likely to remain above normal through the summer. Even if we get lower levels of precipitation we see (the level of Lake Superior) staying above normal,'' Fry said.
Five years of high water has been good news for shippers with Great Lakes freighters able to carry full loads and not worry about bottoming-out in some ports and channels. As recently as 2013 some freighters were leaving ports less than full because of low-water levels.
But the high water since 2014 has exacerbated erosion issues, as seen often in the last 18 months in Duluth and along the South Shore. The higher water level means much less beach and other shoreline buffer against wind-whipped waves, allowing storms to cause millions of dollars in damage to the Duluth Lakewalk and other waterfront area, damage that might not have occured in low-water conditions.