Michigan Water School: Traverse City

Event Date: 9/17/2018
End Date: 9/18/2018


September 17 & 18, 2018, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Local, State and Tribal elected and appointed officials and staff wanting to gain access to resources and knowledge about water management are encouraged to attend this workshop!


  • Factors that impact Michigan water
  • The Blue Economy
  • Fiscal benefits of water management
  • Incorporating water into local planning and placemaking
  • Risk assessment approaches n Resources to help address water problems
  • Water policy at the federal, tribal, state, and local levels

Certificate upon completion of two-day session. Partial scholarships available thanks to funding from the Erb Family Foundation.

LOCATION: Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station
6686 S Center Hwy, Traverse City, MI

REGISTER: https://events.anr.msu.edu/waterschool09172018
$175 (Includes materials and lunch each day)


Lake Superior water levels nearing monthly record highs

Shoreline erosion and coastal damages likely. Water will also make its way down through the other Great Lakes, too.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Monthly forecasts for Great Lakes levels in February 2018 have just been released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Many people are keeping a close eye on current lake levels and future predictions, particularly for Lake Superior. The preliminary data just in for January 2018, show Lake Superior just set the second highest monthly record level, a mere 2 inches below its all-time record for the monthly average January (record set in 1986). The recently released forecast also indicates a high probability Lake Superior could be within 2 inches of its all-time record high levels for every one of the next six months. Put simply, there is a lot of water in Lake Superior and all of that water will eventually make its way through the other Great Lakes.

100 years of data

Also, 2018 marks the centennial year of accurate lake level measurements from the series of binational gaging stations. The measurements for Lake Superior are taken in Duluth, Minn.; Marquette, Mich.; Pt. Iroquois, Mich.; Thunder Bay and Michipicoten, Ontario. There are now 100 years of coordinated data ­—this geographically dispersed gaging network accounts for seiches and provides excellent information – and thus 100 January monthly averages.

Isn’t Lake Superior’s water level controlled? 

The International Lake Superior Board of Control has a Regulation Plan 2012 and is responsible for regulating the outflow and control works in the St. Mary’s River. This Board has been in place since 1914 and has compensating works which allow for some limited variation. This plan must meet multiple objectives including hydropower; municipal and industrial water supply, navigation through the locks, and maintaining a minimum flow for protection of fish habitat in the St. Mary’s River. The January 2018 control board update states:

In consideration of the continuing high water levels in the upper Great Lakes, the International Lake Superior Board of Control, under authority granted to it by the International Joint Commission (IJC), will continue to release outflows of up to 2,510 cubic metres per second (m3/s) through the winter months. This flow is 100 m3/s more than the normal winter maximum prescribed by Regulation Plan 2012. Actual outflows may vary depending on hydrologic and ice conditions, as well as maintenance activities at the hydropower plants on the St. Mary’s River, all of which have been directed to flow at their maximum available capacity.” 

Additionally, the Board noted:''

“The high levels coupled with strong winds and waves have resulted in shoreline erosion and coastal damages across the upper Great Lakes system. As lake ice begins to form this may provide a level of protection to some areas of the shoreline, but additional shoreline erosion and coastal damages may occur this winter should active weather continue.”

System snow in Lake Superior impacts the spring seasonal rise as the snow turns into liquid water. We’re still in the thick of winter so time will tell if the 2018 seasonal rises are low, average, or high. Regardless of how much changes over the next few months, notable shoreline erosion and coastal damages can be expected on Lake Superior shores. (View above image)

Tools to help visualize changes

One tool for shoreline owners and other interests is the Great Lakes Shoreview risk assessment tool (http://www.greatlakesshoreviewer.org/#/great-lakes). This tool, funded by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Office of the Great Lakes, is a web-based mapping tool that shows photos from the Lake Superior shoreline, some nearshore LIDAR data, and some risk rankings.

One other tool to note is the NOAA Lake Levels Viewer tool. Similarly, this web-based mapping tool allows users to artificially fluctuate levels up or down and see impacts on the shore. The tool is found on NOAA’s Digital Coast website at https://coast.noaa.gov/llv/. Select the lake you are interested in, zoom to your geographic area, and use the legend bar to vary the lake levels. You will see impacts on the screen.

It has been a bit of a coastal dynamics wild ride, just 5 years ago all-time record-low lake levels were noted in some of the Great Lakes; now we’re dealing with almost all time highs. Keep your seat belts buckled!

Contact Mark Breederland, Michigan State University Extension Sea Grant if you want more information on living with the ever-changing dynamic coastlines of the Great Lakes.

Are Great Lakes water levels headed up in 2018?

November forecast suggest higher levels heading into next year.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Fall of 2017 was a very wet season in the Great Lakes region. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, basin-wide precipitation was well above normal for all of the Great Lakes during October 2017. In fact, these estimates put the monthly precipitation at 118 percent of average for Lake Superior, 161 percent of average for Lakes Michigan/Huron, 107 percent of average for Lake Erie, and 170 percent  of average for Lake Ontario. Accordingly, while the lakes generally continue seasonal decline into winter, the rate of this decline has been much more gradual.

What impact has this high precipitation had in various lakes? In late October all the Great Lakes rose slightly from the typical pattern (that is lower at the end of the month than at the beginning). Currently in mid-November, Lake Superior is hovering around its October average when it typically is a bit lower in November. Lake Michigan and Huron showed over an inch bump up around Oct. 24, 2017 – over 780 billion gallons of water across this 45,300 square mile surface area of the earth. Net basin supply estimates (the net result of precipitation falling on the lake, runoff from precipitation falling on the land which flows to the lake, and evaporation from the lake [negative net basin supply denotes evaporation exceeded runoff and precipitation]) and the outflow from the upstream lake were all above average during October.

Evaporation a factor

We know evaporation is a huge factor in lake level prediction and yet it is extremely hard to measure. The NOAA Great Lakes Research Lab and The Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research hosted a recent webinar, “Ten Years of the Great Lakes Evaporation Network: Progress Made and Opportunities for the Future” by Dr. Christopher Spence, research hydrologist from Environment and Climate Change Canada. The work done over the past decade is helpful to try to understand big and smaller years of evaporation and yet recognizes significant complexity in locating instruments on the Great Lakes. Some research-based information confirms that typically, the largest evaporation over the lakes occurs in November and December, when the lakes are still warm and the cold arctic air blasts come over the lakes.

Graphic showing lake level monthly mean averages

Graphic showing lake level monthly mean averages. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The main coordinated model for Great Lakes water levels used by the US Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t project out beyond 6 months. However, a newer product The Great Lakes Water Level Outlook, details that the high water levels of this year were accompanied by a strong seasonal rise due to wet spring conditions and high net basin supplies to the lakes. It also compares to some years when there were periods of positive net basin supply during the years 1972-1973, 1985-1986, and 1996-1997 – three scenarios representing periods of high water levels and high net basin supply throughout the year across the Great Lakes basin.

Snowpack key

Considering these scenarios, it is quite possible 2018 may be a high water year in several of the Great Lakes. One thing to watch for over the winter is the amount of system snowpack over the Lake Superior basin. Lake-effect snows are considered net-system losses (they come back long-term) but system snow pack is usually measured in March by NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center.  NOAA is trying to determine how much liquid water is “locked up” in the frozen snowpack, technically called snow-water equivalent. Fixed wing aircraft flying with remote sensing gamma radiation sensors at about 500 feet above the ground around the Lake Superior basin can give good estimates of snowpack. Naturally occurring gamma radiation is released from the soil under snowcover and can indicate snowdepth.

Higher lake levels impacts shoreline erosion; fall is typically the time of year for sustained storms. In fact, a Lake Superior buoy north of Marquette, Mich., measured a 28.8 foot wave at Granite Island on Oct. 24, 2017 – the highest wave ever recorded by modern buoy records (10-30 years). Significant erosion has been reported near Whitefish Point. Yet the rise and fall of the Great Lakes is still normal and key for nearshore wetland ecological health and nearshore habitat.

Here’s an overall lake level synopsis – higher levels but not all time highs. Lake Superior is 13” above its long-term average for October and 7” higher than 2016. Lake Michigan/Huron is 19” above its long term average for October and 9” above 2016. Let’s keep an eye on system snow in 2017-2018 and see what evaporative losses show – but it appears we might well be in for a higher season in 2018.

Please contact Extension educator Mark Breederland, breederl@msu.edu, for more information on living with the ever-changing dynamic coastlines of the Great Lakes.

May, June showers bring higher Great Lake water levels for summer 2017

Great Lake levels are up with Lake Ontario reaching an all-time high.

Lake Ontario reached an all-time record high in May 2017, resulting in impacts to coastal homeowners and more. High Water Event, New York. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs

Lake Ontario reached an all-time record high in May 2017, resulting in impacts to coastal homeowners and more. High Water Event, New York. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs

Have you seen the news on high lake levels on Lake Ontario? Lake Ontario reached all-time record highs in May 2017, resulting in significant coastal community, road, infrastructure and homeowner impacts. Currently the weekly Lake Ontario levels show Lake Ontario is about 30 inches higher than this time last year and 28” above the long term average in June. Colleagues with New York Sea Grant Extension are aiding in this crisis, using a scientific survey to determine impacts of the high water levels. The large rise can be attributed to very high precipitation on the basin, getting almost double the average precipitation as normal.

Back in Michigan, significant rain storms happened in late June 2017, particularly impacting the Saginaw Bay area. The United States Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Lakes Michigan-Huron rose a full 6 inches from April to May during the spring rise and had above average water supplies coming into the system. Lakes Michigan-Huron are forecast to be on the high side of average, about 15 inches above the long term average.

Lake Superior also rose about 6 inches during seasonal rise in May, being about 8 inches above the long term average and about 2” higher than in 2016. Precipitation and net basin supply was above average, with outflows above average through the St. Marys River.

Lake Erie is about 19” above its long term average and 9” above May 2016 levels and the most recent predictions are that it has reached the peak water level for 2017 and will decline about 3” over the next month.

As we head further into summer 2017, visitors to the beaches and boat launch ramps will notice these somewhat higher lake levels. Other great tools to check lake levels include the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory’s  online Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard.

It is amazing to think back of just about 5 years ago to the fall/winter of 2012/2013. Lake Michigan/Huron actually reached the record low level ever recorded in January 2013, in close to 100 years of accurate measurements. The strong rebound from these record lows is unprecedented in our history of measurements.

This summer season is well upon us and it will be interesting to see if levels follow the typical pattern of seasonal decline or if strong precipitation drives them further up. No matter what, be careful in all your water access – swim with flotation devices; be extra careful at launch ramps; and enjoy the dynamic coast of these freshwater seas.

Regional network honors Michigan Sea Grant with awards



  • Rhett Register, Michigan Sea Grant Communications Lead, (734) 647-0767, rregist@umich.edu
  • Cindy Hudson, Michigan Sea Grant Extension Communications Manager, (517) 353-9723, hudsoncy@msu.edu

CLEVELAND – The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network recently honored the work of the Michigan Sea Grant team with several awards during its semi-annual conference in Cleveland, Ohio. The network connects regional state Sea Grant programs and assists in coordinated efforts to solve problems and manage Great Lakes resources.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Mary Bohling receives the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network’s mid-career award.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Mary Bohling receives the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network’s mid-career award.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Mary Bohling of Detroit received a mid-career award noting her excellent work during her 11-year career. Bohling serves the urban Detroit area and works with diverse populations, coastal communities, nonprofit groups, businesses, researchers and politicians applying science-based knowledge to address Great Lakes issues.

Bohling actively assists nonprofit partners in the preparation and reporting of grants, including numerous successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants that have totaled nearly $30 million. Bohling is always looking for creative and interesting ways to get urban youth out on the water or bike trails, including helping to bring the Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile to Detroit several times.

“Mary Bohling is an excellent extension educator who has strong interaction in her communities and with her colleagues. She is creative and has made — and continues to make — outstanding contributions to Michigan Sea Grant and our state,” said Heather Triezenberg, Michigan Sea Grant Extension program leader.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Brandon Schroeder receives the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network’s Distinguished Service Award.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Brandon Schroeder receives the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network’s Distinguished Service Award.

Extension Educator Brandon Schroeder of Alpena was honored with a Distinguished Service Award. Schroeder has been with Michigan Sea Grant for 13 years and serves coastal counties, encompassing 230 miles of Lake Huron shoreline in Michigan’s northeastern Lower Peninsula. Brandon’s programming focuses on the changing Lake Huron fishery, coastal tourism and business development, and youth engagement in coastal community development and stewardship.

Schroeder’s leadership and involvement in many place-based education opportunities, 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp, Center for Great Lakes Literacy, and fisheries workshops are just some of the ways he shares his expertise with stakeholders.

“His enthusiasm for his work, combined with a natural curiosity, broad knowledge base, and engaging approach to his work, combine in a way that is unique and extremely effective,” said co-worker Steve Stewart, a senior extension educator.

In addition to these individual awards, Michigan Sea Grant received the Network’s Great Lakes Outreach Programming Award for its Sustainable Small Harbors project.

The Sustainable Small Harbors project, funded by Michigan Sea Grant and a host of partners, aims to assist coastal communities in their planning efforts. The project has enabled six coastal communities with public harbors to do in-depth self-assessments, uncovering strengths and weaknesses related to their waterfront assets and to collaboratively envision their future.

The project has come at a time when harbor towns can capitalize on rebounding tourist dollars and a recovering state economy to make needed waterfront upgrades and add amenities that will increase their appeal to visitors. Team members customized and created highly interactive, public input-driven workshops, or charrettes — typically valued at tens of thousands of dollars — at no direct cost to the six case-study communities involved. The project brought together community decision-makers, harbor managers, infrastructure planners, boaters, business owners and others to come up with meaningful pathways for moving their communities forward.

“The economic and environmental health of small towns along Michigan’s coast is essential to strengthening the state’s economy and environment,” said Jim Diana, Michigan Sea Grant director. “If Michigan thrives, then the Great Lakes region as a whole benefits – and that’s why this program has been so important.”

Sustainable Small Harbor program team members Todd Marsee (left) and Mark Breederland accept the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network’s Outreach Programming Award on behalf of Michigan Sea Grant.

Sustainable Small Harbor program team members Todd Marsee (left) and Mark Breederland accept the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network’s Outreach Programming Award on behalf of Michigan Sea Grant.

Team members for the Sustainable Small Harbors project from Michigan Sea Grant included Mark Breederland, Catherine Riseng, Amy Samples and Todd Marsee. Don Carpenter from Lawrence Technological University was principal investigator. Other partners included:

Michigan State University Extension; Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of the Great Lakes; Michigan Department of Natural Resources Waterways Program; Michigan Development Corporation; Michigan State Housing Development Authority; Environmental Consulting and Technology, LLC; Veritas Environmental Consulting, LLC; David L. Knight, LLC; Edgewater Resources, LLC; Richard Neumann, architect; Constance Bodurow, designer.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

Boardman River Selective Fish Passage National Demonstration

Event Date: 4/11/2017

Keeping out the bad and encouraging the good!

April 11, 2017

ISEA Education Center, 100 Dame St., Suttons Bay, MI, 6:30–8 pm (Free to public)

This seminar will discuss a broad overview of the project and the preliminary ideas of the recently announced Selective Fish Passage Demonstration on the Boardman River. Announced by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in Fall 2016, The Boardman River Union Street Dam site was chosen to implement a state-of-the-art system to keep adult sea lamprey upstream of the project site while allowing self-sustaining populations of various fish species to migrate to and from Lake Michigan and all the way up the Boardman River watershed. The project is in its very initial stages of a possible 10 year experiment to be followed with a long-term operational mode allowing such selective fish passage.

Mark Breederland works with Great Lakes coastal communities and has done so for over 25 years. He is a field-based educator with the Michigan Sea Grant College Program, Michigan State University Extension serving the Northwest Lower Michigan area from his base in Traverse City. He is collaborating with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission on the Boardman River Selective Fish Passage Project as part of the education and outreach team.

Are there tsunamis in the Great Lakes?


Yes, but not from earthquakes — meteorological events can trigger rapidly moving waves.

Tsunamis have been on the news lately with another wave system hitting Japan in November 2016. The Nov. 22 tsunami hit the island country after a magnitude 7.4 earthquake occurred in the ocean offshore of Japan. Have there been and could there be tsunamis in the Great Lakes? The answer is actually yes, even though the Great Lakes region is an area of low seismic activity. New research published in Nature.com, November, 2016 has found that tsunamis have occurred in all five of the Great Lakes, but not one formed from earthquake activity. Rather, the tsunamis in the Great Lakes are actually caused by gathered groups of thunderstorms.

Tsunamis in the Great Lakes are technically called meteotsunamis, or tsunamis caused by meteorological conditions. A meteotsunami is defined as a rapidly moving wave that can be generated by quickly changing air pressure or high wind speeds or a combination of both. While these meteotsunami waves are not nearly as big as those generated by seismic tsunamis, NOAA reports a wave was actually measured off Chicago in 1954 at 10 feet high, and when it hit, several people were knocked off a pier and seven drowned.

Have there been any notable meteotsunamis in the Great Lakes in recent years? Yes, according to the new research, in 2014 a Lake Superior meteotsunami overtopped the Soo Locks, impacted shipping operations and caused evacuation of some homes in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. And the NOAA report documented another one in 2012 off Cleveland, Ohio, knocking people on the beach off their feet and swamping boats in harbors.

Map of meteotsunamis reported in the Great Lakes. Image from Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 37832 (2016), used with permission.

Map of meteotsunamis reported in the Great Lakes. Image from Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 37832 (2016), used with permission.

What does it take for thunderstorms to form meteotsunamis in the Great Lakes? Usually, situations which cause these tsunamis are a long line formation of thunderstorms or an organized grouping of long-lasting thunderstorms. The highest probability of occurrence of these convective events is during the late-spring to mid-summer timeframe, with April and May being the highest probability months.

Researchers used the NOAA water level gauges in the Great Lakes to analyze causes and frequency by detailed analysis of these long-term water level records. Results indicated an overall average of 106 meteotsunami events per year throughout the entire Great Lakes basin with Calumet Harbor, Ill., on Lake Michigan having the most frequent (29 per year) followed by Buffalo, New York, on Lake Erie (17 per year) and Alpena, Mich., on Lake Huron (14 per year). Of the 5 Great Lakes, Lake Michigan had the highest frequency of meteotsunamis at 51 per year, followed by Lake Erie (27/year); Huron (17/year), Superior (6/year) and Ontario (5 /year).

How are seiches in the Great Lakes related to meteotsunamis?  Time of duration is a key. Seiches result when strong winds and rapid changes in atmospheric pressure push water from one end of the lake to the other. The water rebounds to the other side of the lake when the wind stops. As a result the water then continues to oscillate back and forth for hours or possibly even days. The time period between the “high” and “low” of a seiche can be as much as four to seven hours. Contrast this with waves that are generated by meteotsunamis in a matter of minutes. It is quite possible some reported seiches have actually been meteotsunamis.

While water level changes are dealt with by coastal communities as part of their resilience planning, this research found that waves generated by meteotsunamis are not considered in planning or design along the Great Lakes coasts and the available forecast models are not sufficient for public safety efforts. It seems this research has also shown the value and  need for continued monitoring of existing Great Lakes water level gauges and possibly even additional ones in the future. Coastal communities that might be impacted need to understand what meteotsunamis are and the potential risk they pose to human safety, infrastructure and resilience.

Could warm Great Lakes bring significant lake effect snow to Michigan?

Water temperature, wind direction and a chilly blast from Canada might push the snowfall totals.

Could warm Great Lakes bring significant lake effect snow to Michigan?

As noted in Part 1 of this series, the fall 2016 water temperatures of the Great Lakes are significantly warmer than average and there is no ice that has even come close to forming as of late November, 2016. Meteorologist Mark Torregrossa’s research using two Lake Michigan NOAA buoys shows average surface water temperatures set a record high in Lake Michigan (consistent data has been collected from 1979 onward). This is due to a warm winter 2015-16 and a hot summer 2016. This is a stark contrast to three years ago when ice started forming in shallow protected areas of the Great Lakes by Thanksgiving, Nov.28, 2013. What are some of the implications this might portend?

It is possible that very heavy lake effect snows could come from having such warm Great Lakes water. But it may not be that simple. Let’s start with a discussion of what lake effect snow actually is. Lake effect snow is created when a large temperature gradient exists between the surface of the Great Lakes and the temperature at 5000 feet above the ground. If the winds and temperatures are right, the air acts like a big sponge that sops up water from the lake and wrings it out on land in the form of snow. The direction of the wind is important—if the wind is blowing in a direction that covers more of the lake, the air will take in more water. The greater the temperature difference the more water the air will take in.

Animated map showing temperatures of the Great Lakes 2014 vs. 2016 courtesy of NOAA. There clearly is the warmth in the water. Perhaps a bigger question is will the cold air masses come in from Canada and for what duration to cause large lake effect? It seems a key to lake effect and annual snowfall amounts is likely related to the overall weather pattern which may have helped create the warm waters. In Traverse City where I reside, a new record high temperature was just reported by NOAA’s National Weather Service at 12:20 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, where the temperature was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. This is also the latest in the year that the temperature has been this warm since recordkeeping started in Traverse City in 1896.

We are also just getting started in a weak La Niña winter, contrasting with the strong El Niño winter of 2015-16. This may indicate a bit warmer than normal conditions from December to February. If this is the case, the winter may not be extremely wet or dry.

I have my snowblower ready for the lake effect snows that come to my region of Michigan. I’m sure we’ll have some good lake effect snows but I didn’t have to use the snowblower at all during November 2016. Time will tell how much Great Lakes water comes via lake effect this winter as well as the total amount of ice-cover for the season. I enjoy all four seasons so I look forward to enjoying the snow—and hopefully some ice fishing (probably on inland lakes).

NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab has just announced that the water temperatures for all the Great Lakes are the warmest they have been since at least 2010 for the late November time frame. Data has been compiled from satellites and made into an animation (shown above) showing 2014/2016. Here is the full NOAA press release posted Nov. 28, 2016:

According to data from NOAA Coastwatch’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the temperatures of the Great Lakes are the warmest they’ve been since at least 2010 for this late in the month of November. Created with data from several satellites, this animation compares Great Lakes surface temperatures in 2014 with 2016. As you can see, the surface temperatures in November 2016 are several degrees warmer than those of this time two years ago.

As weather watchers—and residents of the Great Lakes region—know, the combination of warm lake waters and cold winter winds blowing across them is a perfect combination for lake effect snow, which NOAA defines as “snow showers that are created when cold, dry air passes over a large warmer lake, such as one of the Great Lakes, and picks up moisture and heat.”

The last time that the Great Lakes were this warm was November 2010. That year, the lake surfaces remained mostly ice-free for the entire winter. Of course, just how much snow particular areas of the Great Lakes region will receive depends on which direction the winds blow. To see annual comparisons of various factors pertaining to the Great Lakes, visit the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory’s website. To see graphs depicting the average surface water temperatures of the Great Lakes for the past 5 years, click here. More information on satellite-derived measurements of sea (and lake) surface temperature is available here.”

To keep up with snowfall amounts:

The Gaylord National Weather Service keeps a snowfall year to date graph with seasonal averages and departures available. All observation stations in this large geographic area are well below normal at this time except the Houghton Lake station. http://www.weather.gov/apx/snowgraph_ytd

To keep up with Great Lakes ice cover:


Read this two-part series:

Part 1: How much ice should we expect to see on the Great Lakes this winter?

Part 2: Could warm Great Lakes bring significant lake effect snow to Michigan?

How much ice should we expect to see on the Great Lakes this winter?

Last really big ice cover winter for the Great Lakes was 2013-2014 where over 92% of the Lakes were frozen over.

This graph shows maximum cover from 1973-2016 as recorded at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab where they have been monitoring ice cover since the early 1970s. Image: GLERL

This graph shows maximum cover from 1973-2016 as recorded at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab where they have been monitoring ice cover since the early 1970s. Image: GLERL

As noted earlier this summer, the 2016 water temperatures of the Great Lakes were significantly warmer than average. Data compiled from NOAA’s Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System allows an easy comparison by date for the past 2 years and it is interesting to view now that we’re at the beginning of the winter season. For instance, on November 22, 2016, the average Lake Michigan whole volume temperature was 50.9 degrees Fahrenheit while the same date in 2015 it was 47.8 and in 2014 it was 45.5.

Our last really big ice cover winter for the Great Lakes was 2013-2014 where over 92 percent of the Lakes were frozen over. The graph shows maximum cover from 1973-2016 as recorded at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab where they have been monitoring ice cover since the early 1970s.

So, during a really good ice winter, like that of 2013-14, how early did ice start forming in the Great Lakes? As early as Thanksgiving, 2013, (November 28)  ice had already started forming and by December 31, 2013, there was significant cover.  Images from the GLERL Digital Ice database show the ice cover on those dates.November 2013 ice cover

Now fast forward to 2016. There is no ice formed anywhere in the Great Lakes and we are past Thanksgiving. The reason is that all the Great Lakes are at their highest average temperatures for at least the past 5 years. As you can see there is a lot of annual variation and there is still much about ice in the Great Lakes we don’t understand.`

An interesting recent scientific publication by Titze & Austin (Journal of Great Lakes Research, Vol. 42, Issue 5, Oct. 2016) discusses some observations during the strong ice winter of 2013-14 on Lake Superior. So much of the knowledge of ice cover is based from remotely sensed data; this research adds actual observations of ice cover from three sub-surface moorings on the lakebed of Lake Superior. The sensors could observe the ice above all winter long. One finding that was noted is even during a record-high ice cover on Lake Superior of 2013-2014 the majority of the ice in open water areas of the lake was free-drifting and moving.

As researchers continue to study and gather data on Great Lakes ice cover, we will begin to more thoroughly understand impacts, implications and ecological functions of Great Lakes ice cover.

What are some possible implications of water temperature, ice and other factors in the Great Lakes during this winter of 2016/2017? Read Part 2 of this article to find out.

December 2013 ice cover

Waterfowl die-off on Lake Michigan shores linked to type E botulism

Disease confirmed in Michigan’s Leelanau, Delta, Schoolcraft counties affecting loons, other migrating fowl.

These dead birds were located on the beach at Good Harbor Bay, Leelanau County. Photo: Dan Ray, National Park Service

These dead birds were located on the beach at Good Harbor Bay, Leelanau County. Photo: Dan Ray, National Park Service

Several species of waterfowl carcasses have recently washed ashore in Lake Michigan’s Leelanau, Emmet, Charlevoix, Delta and Schoolcraft counties. A team of volunteers has been monitoring places such as the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Northern Leelanau County region, the Garden Peninsula region and other stretches near the City of Manistique. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Disease Lab has confirmed type E botulism as the cause of death for these dozens and dozens of diving ducks and loons. Type E botulism causes a paralysis from the toxin released from the germination of the spore-like natural bacterium Closteridium botulinum; it is a recurring disease impacted by the changing Lake Michigan food web.

Since 2006, type E botulism has impacted some local and mostly migrating waterfowl passing through northern Michigan on their way to winter habitats. The recently killed birds include common loons, long-tailed ducks, white-winged scoters, red breasted mergansers, grebes and gulls. In Schoolcraft County alone, an estimate of 600 birds total were found along an 8 mile stretch of shoreline. Leelanau County estimates of around 250 birds, primarily long-tailed ducks, have come in during the last week of October 2016, and lesser amounts in Emmet and Charlevoix counties.

Many groups have loosely organized over the years to help gather data and bury carcasses so no other animals might be impacted. Researchers and volunteers from federal agencies such as the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., and National Park Service; academic institutions; state agencies such as the Michigan DNR and nonprofits have assisted in monitoring the hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The Sleeping Bear Dunes volunteers are nicknamed the “Bot. Squad VIPs” team: fighting type e botulism since 2006. Information from summer beach volunteers showed a low dieoff until the recent kills. However, in Sleeping Bear Dunes a yearly high total was around 1500 birds during 2012 and so far this year the count is moderate.

Trained staff and volunteers are helping bury the carcasses after counting and noting location and species. The National Park does not collect or rehabilitate sick birds. People are encouraged to not touch the birds because of other possible diseases that might be present on the carcasses. In general follow these guidelines along the shore:

  • Do not handle dead fish or birds with your bare hands.
  • Properly dispose of carcasses by double bagging and placing them in the trash.
  • Beware of fish that are floating – if they are not fighting, they are likely not healthy and should not be consumed.
  • Do not eat undercooked or improperly prepared fish or waterfowl.
  • Hunters should never harvest birds that appear to be sick or are dying.
  • Do not let your pets eat dead fish or birds.
  • Look for carcasses at two peak times: in mid-late summer and in the fall and follow proper disposal methods.

If you are able to enjoy some fall beach walks in Northern Lake Michigan, recognize that there is a possibility of some waterfowl carcasses. Hopefully, the waterfowl will migrate through the region soon and the fall impact of type E botulism soon will be over for 2016.

Michigan Sea Grant maintains a web page with a variety of information on type E botulism outbreaks:  http://bit.ly/2e20DZU