joke: Winter weather wonít replenish Great Lakes Little
risk of flooding seen in region Tom Henry
Look at all that snow still on the ground.
Now, remind yourself that spring starts in 18 days. Winter
coats, gloves, mittens, and scarves will soon be stashed
as nose-biting weather gradually gives way to balmy temperatures,
sunshine, and the arrival of the proverbial robin.
Logically, that brings us to the topic of ... drought, despite
all the snow melt that is the vestige of a wet winter.
Yes. Call it an irony of science, but the Great Lakes region
- home of the worldís largest collection of fresh surface
water - remains entrenched in a drought. Even as our shoes
are soaked from melting snow, researchers say wells are
going dry and they predict the lakes will be down 8 to 13
inches this summer.
That will hurt the region because commercial shipping and
recreational boating help anchor the local economy.
Great Lakes shipping means more than $4 billion a year to
the U.S.-Canadian economies and provides some 70,000 jobs.
The Lake Carriers Association in Cleveland, which represents
domestic shippers, said every inch of lost water translates
to millions of dollars in lost revenue, because less cargo
is hauled per trip.
Gauge recreational boating activity by the number of registered
boaters and youíll always find Great Lakes states, especially
Michigan and Ohio, near the top.
The region rode the high water levels for 30 years until
the lakes plunged in the late 1990s. Experts are puzzled
as to whether global warming is is the cause or merely a
"We were right on average February to June, then hit a dry
spell," said Tim Calappi, physical scientist for the Army
Corps of Engineers in Detroit.
Compounding the problem this winter was an usually dry January:
Lake Huron, which replenishes Lake Erie, had a little more
than one-third of an inch of precipitation that month. Its
norm is 2.09 inches for that month, according to the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationís Great Lakes lab
in Ann Arbor.
Lake Erie had 1.54 inches of precipitation for January,
below its norm of 2.44 inches.
The Great Lakes region has been under a drought "off and
on since at least 1999," Cynthia Sellinger, NOAA hydrologist,
said. "The last six to eight months, itís been really strong,"
The silver lining: Things could have been a whole lot worse
if this winter hadnít been so cold.
Sustained arctic-like temperatures froze Lake Erie, sealing
it off from further evaporation. None of the other Great
Lakes froze over, but each came close - even venerable Lake
Superior, which rarely freezes because it is so large and
deep. It had only limited patches of open water. About 90
percent of Lake Huronís surface was frozen, said Mr. Calappi
and Ms. Sellinger.
The region is not likely to have much flooding, unless it
gets thunderstorms that last for days and the heavy rain
falls while the ground is still frozen, they said.
Wells are low. Therefore, most of the melted snow will have
places to go once the soil thaws. That, at least, should
help replenish groundwater supplies, they said.
An exception could be in some cities, where pavement blocks
Bob Stevenson, Toledo utilities director, said city crews
have been clearing catch basins and storm drains in hopes
of keeping the sewage network from being overwhelmed.
"Normally the rule of thumb on snow melt is if it melts
in its normal course and is gradual, thereís no issue. If
we get a 60-degree day and it melts all in one day, we will
have a lot of runoff," he said.
In Findlay, the fickle Blanchard River floods frequently.
That city also has been hit by numerous snowstorms in recent
Mayor John Stozich said heís keeping his fingers crossed.
"The cold weather helps you because it doesnít thaw so fast,"
The long-term outlook isnít too promising: Forecasters call
for below-normal precipitation through at least May, Ms.
"And you never know. [We] might have a really wet spring.
But the winter has been really dry," she said.
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