ELPC Events

ELPC Thinks: Current State of Great Lakes Water Levels

On May 13th, ELPC invited Dr. Drew Gronewold, University of Michigan’s Environmental and Sustainability professor, to give us an update on the Great Lakes water levels.

by Natalie Rzucidlo, Communications Intern

Dr. Drew Gronewold specializes in research predicting runoff, monitoring and understanding water quality in coastal areas, and using probability theory and Bayesian statistics into watershed-scale data sets and forecasting tools. Dr. Gronewold has an adjunct appointment in University of Michigan’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. Previously, he had worked for NOAA Great Lakes in the Environmental Research Laboratory as a hydrologist and physical scientist.

In this webinar, Dr. Gronewold provided graphics and information regarding changing water levels on the Great Lakes. In April 2020, Lake Huron reached record high water levels. Around this time, flooding was very prevalent, particularly around Lake Ontario. Lake Michigan experienced record lows in 2013 and record highs in 2020. Dr. Gronewold described the Great Lakes as going through a “tug-of-war” of forces. As precipitation is expected to increase due to climate change, water levels may rise some years, while warmer temperatures can cause more evaporation that decreases water levels in other years. The Midwest is also affected by several major air masses that shape weather throughout the continent. Climate change related shifts to these air masses could impact Great Lakes water levels additionally in the future as well.

In 2021, there has been a decline in water levels compared to last year’s highs leaving us now between record highs and the average. Scientists predict that the water levels for the next year or two will unlikely break record highs, but they will also likely not reach their long-term average lows. In comparing precipitation rates from winter 2020 to winter 2021, this year has shown to be very dry and low in precipitation levels. Dr. Gronewold concludes by emphasizing the point that the Great Lakes are constantly changing, and shoreline communities will need to adapt to to more resilient infrastructure that can withstand both the highs and lows.

Watch the full webinar with Dr. Drew Gronewold below.