Boosted by above-average rainfall this spring, Lake Michigan is on pace to swell to its highest water level in two decades.
The rising water, which could climb more than 1 1/2 feet above its long-term average this month, has swallowed up mounds of beach along Illinois’ shoreline and created an opportunity for taller, stronger waves that could accelerate erosion. With forecasts suggesting Lake Michigan could remain high through the next six months, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, communities will likely be on guard for powerful autumn storms that could pulverize lakefront property.
The surge was brought on, in part, by an unexpected deluge this spring, when Chicago saw 43 percent more precipitation than usual, including an April with nearly double the normal rainfall, according to data from the National Weather Service.
“We always think of the Great Lakes as responding very slowly to these events, but they can actually be moving rather quickly,” said Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel.
During 15 years of persistently low levels, Lake Michigan dipped to a record low in January 2013. In a dramatic reversal, two years later it rebounded nearly 4 feet, largely because of increased ice cover from back-to-back polar vortex winters that limited evaporation. Lake levels have continued to be elevated, though they are still 2 feet below the record high set in 1986.
Periods of high and low lake levels have drawbacks, said Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District.
“For a decade and a half, we had impacts from low lake…
click here to read more.