What’s going on with Lake Michigan’s water levels?

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Lake Michigan’s water levels have been having a bit of an identity crisis in the past few years.

In 2013, Big Lake water levels hit their lowest in recorded history. But now, just four years later, they’re the highest they’ve been since 1997 – rising four feet in just that time. It has scientists taking notice.

“The amount of recovery of water we’ve had in four years is tremendous,” said Brandon Hoving with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids. “Trillions and trillions and trillions of gallons of water.”

Literally. In order to raise the water level of Lake Michigan by just one inch, 390-billion gallons of water need to be added to it. If you’ve noticed this spring and summer were particularly dry here in West Michigan, you’re right. But it isn’t our side of the lake that’s contributing to the rises. This year, parts of Wisconsin and Illinois as well as parts of the Upper Peninsula have seen significant rainfall that’s adding height to the lake.

“Wherever it’s been wetter than normal, that plays a role in how high the lakes are getting,” said Hoving. “Kind of the moral of the story is this year’s been quite wet for Michigan, in some cases 200% of normal precipitation.”

Just not in West Michigan. But recent snow melt and seasonal rains – not just this year but over the past four – have contributed as well.

This NWS/NOAA chart shows year-to-date rainfalls for 2017. Heavy rain in the UP and Illinois/Wisconsin areas have contributed to rising Lake Michigan water levels.

For beach goers and those who own property near the water, it could be cause for concern depending on what this winter brings.

“For folks that are venturing out onto the piers and breakwaters, they’re fishing off those piers, those water levels – the waves themselves – are lapping over the pier. And so that over-wash has force to it and it can knock you off the pier,” said Hoving.

“The beach is going to be churned up and chewed up a lot easier now because the lake is higher. So we’re seeing some of that erosion with some of the coastal properties on Lake Michigan.”

To see a full historical chart of all the Great Lakes water levels, click here.

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