Water Levels on Lake Superior at Normal For ‘Mild’ Winter, Experts Say

DULUTH, Minn. — Temperatures have been up and down since winter began, but how about the water levels on Lake Superior?

Dr. Bob Sterne, director of the Large Lakes Observatory at University of Minnesota Duluth says week to week temperature changes don’t have too much effect on lake water balance, but overall winter weather patterns do.

Dr. Sterner says in milder winters with less snow, more evaporation can take place, causing a predictable drop in water levels during winter time.

“Years like this one, with low lake ice, means we have relatively high evaporation,” Dr. Sterner said.  “And so the lake level can drop.”

At this time, lake levels are where they would normally be this time of year.

Dr. Sterner says sea smoke blowing across the lake is a literal example of watching water being transported off the lake surface and onto the land as lake effect snow.

He adds that the changing climate could have a bigger impact on lake levels in the future.

“In a harsh winter, you basically turn off evaporation with lake ice.  In a mild winter you have high evaporation,” Dr. Sterner said.  “So there’s a really big effect on lake water balance between warm and cold winters.”

Milder winters could make for a more alarming drop in lake levels, but the most uncertain element is predicting future precipitation patters.

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