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Great Lakes Article:

Report says Great Lakes inching up
Duluth News Tribune
02/03/04

Lake Superior dropped a bit in 2003 compared with 2002, but ice cover, lower temperatures and increasing precipitation are generally bringing the Great Lakes up from low water levels.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District released its annual report Monday on the levels of the Great Lakes, noting marked recovery forwater-starved lakes Michigan and Huron.

Lake Superior started 2003 about 7 inches below the long-term normal for January and ended the year about 9 inches below normal for December. Those numbers are not out of the statistical norm and near the level listed on navigation charts.

Last fall's storms in the region and recent snowfall from storms that started outside the region -- not just lake-effect snow -- also add encouragement for coming months and a return to more normal temperatures.

Lake levels are important for Great Lakes shipping because extremely low levels restrict how much cargo ships can carry. Lake levels also affect recreational boating and erosion.

Lakes Huron and Michigan began 2003 about 20 inches below normal for January and ended the year 18 inches low for December, about the same as 2002. Lakes Erie and Ontario closed the gap about 2 inches toward normal.

Colder weather slows evaporation, as does extensive ice cover.

"There has been a significant improvement on Michigan and Huron... and that's because we had reduced evaporation," Marie Strum, chief of the watershed hydrology branch of the Corps, said Monday. "We had a very extensive ice cover last winter and that remained until early spring, which kept the water temperatures lower."

The latest decline in lake levels began about 1997, said Cynthia Sellinger, a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research lab.

Sellinger said it may take years for the lakes to all return to average levels.

"So far this winter, we've had a good snow pack," Sellinger said. "We've had water that's coming from outside of the (Great Lakes) basin, not necessarily just lake-effect snow. There were systems that came from the Gulf and came from the Pacific that brought moisture from outside the basin."

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