Sunday, January 5, 2014

Epic Freeze Coming for the Great Lakes: Water Levels Already Back

The Great Lakes are icing up. As of Saturday, before the Arctic vortex moves in, here is the view. The early season freeze, while well ahead of schedule, is primarily along the most easily frozen western shores, and in shallow and wind-protected inlets, straits, coves and bays.
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

What a difference two days make. Here is a view of the open Lake Michigan inlet to Muskegon Lake on Friday, January 3. 

Here is the same view, now ice packed, today January 5.

Lake Erie, with its shallow waters, is virtually certain to freeze over this winter.  Lake Michigan may be headed for 90 percent plus ice coverage.

WZZM TV in Muskegon, Michigan reports,
From a historical perspective, the current ice level is on track to do something we haven't seen in decades: cover most of Lake Michigan. Looking at a NOAA ice coverage map from January of 1977 it looks a lot like the current ice coverage map today, according to WZZM 13 Chief Meteorologist George Lessens, "1977 was one of the coldest winters on record."
Frozen lakes are causing problems for electricity producers and interfering with commerce.
Great Lakes ice can be a bad thing, especially for shipping: a week before Christmas, a freighter carrying 17,000 tons of coal got stuck on thick ice on Muskegon Lake. This meant Consumers Energy had to cancel its last two coal shipments of the winter. 
In Chicago, lakefront cruises have been cancelled and Coast Guard and contracted city personnel have been hard at work to prevent ice damage and keep shipping lanes open.
The early pockets of ice have prompted one Chicago cruise line to cancel its New Year's Eve fireworks cruise for the first time in five years. The company that manages harbors on the lakefront has started efforts to protect their docks from ice. And in the northern part of Lake Michigan, the Coast Guard has been busy breaking through ice, making sure shipping crews can make their scheduled deliveries.

Up at the entrance to Lake Superior Wisconsin Public Radio reported,
Coast Guard ice breakers and cutters Mackinaw and Biscayne Bay are working with Canadian cutters at the St. Mary's River, a bottleneck of boats connecting to Lake Superior. The ice has brought a few 1,000-foot-long super-carriers to a standstill.
Mathew Anderson is with the Coast Guard at Sault St. Marie, Michigan. “We've had a few that have gotten hung up in the turns, and that's primarily where it is, when they're trying to make a turn there's not room for the stern to come around in the ice. We've had icebreakers working in the lower river for the last few days.”
Ice breaking operations are also active in Green Bay.
Meanwhile, Ojard, who's been in the business for a few decades, says this just doesn't happen this early. “There's ice in Lake [Superior]! When have you seen that at the first part of December? I can't remember this early.”
The Great Lakes ecosystem has undergone a period of declining water levels. The AP reported a year ago,
Measurements taken last month show Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have reached their lowest ebb since record keeping began in 1918, and the lakes could set additional records over the next few months, the corps said. The lakes were 29 inches below their long-term average and had declined 17 inches since January 2012.
The other Great Lakes -- Superior, Erie and Ontario -- were also well below average.
"We're in an extreme situation," said Keith Kompoltowicz, watershed hydrology chief for the corps district office in Detroit.
Along the oceans the global warming shtick has been that warming temperatures are melting polar ice caps and driving up sea levels, threatening coastlines. For a period, great lakes water levels had been on the decline, so it had to be the warming planet and climate change, right?  High water, low water, it's all the same.  

Barack Obama's Department of Transportation jumped on board last year, claiming climate change causes "potential reductions over the next half-century from 4 to 14 inches on lake Superior; 10 to 44 inches on lakes Michigan and huron; 8 to 38 inches on lake St. Clair (which is part of the connecting channel between lake huron and lake erie); and 5 to 32 inches on lake Erie."

Pull out all the stops, panic, for the Great Lakes are drying up. If you don't believe, just ask Al Franken who thinks the Obama administration has not gone far enough.  

It's no secret that, partially due to climate change, the water levels in the Great Lakes are getting very low. It's becoming such a problem that six U.S. Senators from Great Lakes states are upset with President Obama for overlooking the Lakes in his Climate Action Plan. Here are a few excerpts of the letter to the President from Senators Levin, Durbin, Franken, Brown, Schumer, and Stabenow: 
"We applaud the Administration for releasing a climate action plan...but were disappointed that the Great Lakes were not mentioned.
"This year, Great Lakes water levels reached new historic lows severely hampering commercial shipping, jeopardizing recreational boating and fishing, devastating the tourism industry, threatening electric power generation, compromising water supply infrastructure, and exacerbating problems caused by invasive species. 
“In particular, the impacts of climate change on commerce and navigation should be of utmost importance. The Great Lakes Navigation System carries over 160 million tons of cargo annually. 
“Addressing the impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes region is essential for the long-term health, safety, and prosperity of our country.” 
Why is climate change linked to lower water levels in the Great Lakes? Some models predict that climate change will increase evaporation in the Great Lakes due to warmer temperatures, especially since reduced ice cover in winter leads to more evaporation. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently published a great piece connecting Lake Michigan’s record low water levels, climate change, evaporation, loss of winter ice, and the consequences for local communities.
The only problem is that even before this winter's ice cover had an opportunity to appreciably affect evaporation, water levels for Lakes Superior, Erie and Ontario are back to normal, according to Bill Steffen.
Lake Superior is now back to the long-term average…so only Lake Michigan-Huron (which is a single lake for lake-level purposes, as the 2 lakes are connected at the Mac. Bridge and are at the same water level) is now below the long-term average.  Remember, more than one study has shown that the reduced level of Lake Michigan-Huron is mostly or completely due to dredging in the St. Clair River.  According to this article in the Milwaukee Journal “The St. Clair has been heavily dredged for over a century, and the federal government has long acknowledged that this human meddling in the riverbed has led to a permanent drop of about 16 inches from Michigan and Huron’s long-term average.  Alarmed by the fact that even the lakes’ peak levels had been below that average line for several years, a Canadian conservation group created by property owners from northern Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay hired its own engineering firm to conduct a study of what was going on in the St. Clair River back in 2004. That study said the water lost from the lakes by expanding the river channel was actually much greater than 16 inches – and getting worse.” 
Here’s the increase in water level for 2013:  Superior 12″, Michigan-Huron 14″, Erie 10″, Ontario 11″ and St. Clair 14″.  Superior is down 2″ in the last month (not surprising…it’s been too cold up north to melt anything and Superior is still mainly open water and there is some evaporation) and Michigan-Huron is down 1″ in the last month.  Lake Ontario is up to 2″ in the last month, Erie is up 4″ in the last month (a lot for Dec.) and Lake St. Clair is up 3″ month-to-month.  Lakes Erie and Ontario are now both 2″ above their century average, Lakes Superior and St. Clair are exactly at average and Lake Michigan-Huron is 14″ below the long-term average.

The New York Times confirms the dredging impacts.

Al Franken and his lefty loonie Senate compatriots don't have an ice floe to stand on. Let it be.

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