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Great Lakes making comeback

Lake Michigan has risen more than 3 feet since January 2013

Roger Pitt
Roger Pitt

By Roger Pitt

Bob Fischer drew my attention last week, sitting with two “unknowns” at the table he and his wife Judy usually gather with her family following Sunday mass.

Curiosity may have killed a cat, but it often leads to an End Stool column and interesting conversation with strangers.

The white collar quickly identified one of the men as a priest. The other served as driver and companion.

“This is my godson and nephew Chuck,” Bob said. “He is from Fargo, North Dakota.” He’s my brother Chuck’s son, Bob explained later.

Chuck said they were taking a day trip with his uncle to Door County.

The following Sunday Bob stopped at the End Stool to update their trip and observations that make the column also newsworthy.

“They had a great time. We were able to visit a shipyard in Sturgeon Bay where they were building boats.

“Better yet we got to see some of the big ships. That was not possible for a few years because the lake level was too low to allow ships in the harbor,” Bob said.

They also ventured up the Door peninsula to Al Johnson’s renowned restaurant, minus the goats feasting on the sod roof.

The Great Lakes were like a bath tub the plug had been pulled on as Lake Michigan receded by four feet in the late 1990s, falling to a record low two years ago.

Fischer’s anecdotal assessment was verified by Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carrier’s Association, which represents 16 American companies that transport raw materials.

With the restored lake levels, one freighter was able to ship almost a full load of ore at 70,000 tons across Lake Michigan, he said.

Michigan has risen more than three feet since January 2013, beginning with a major turnaround in winter 2013-14 when the polar vortex virtually froze over all of the lakes.

“It stayed below average for 15 years, which was the longest persistent below-average on record,” said Drew Gronewold, hydrologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The water levels of the Great Lakes exceeded their historic averages in 2014 for the first time in nearly two decades. The water levels of Lake Michigan and Huron, considered one body of water, remains less than a foot below historic average.

Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, also experienced significant water level gains as it rose about two feet between 2013-2014.

Ice cover the last two winters were the main catalyst.

Aside from one year of average measurements in 2008, water levels for Lake Michigan have been well below long-term averages since 1998. After a record low in 2013, the levels have bounded back to normal and predicted to remain above average for the remainder of the summer.

In March 2014 about 92 percent of the Great Lakes were covered by ice, the second highest percentage on record.

The ongoing drought in California and other West Coast states resulting in devastating wild fires and damaging crops. The long-term moisture deficits remain at near-record levels. Stringent restrictions on water usage are diligently enforced with fines.

The Great Lakes is a water source for many of the urban areas along its shores – including most large cities in Wisconsin. The lakes are the envy of other areas that covet their fresh water.

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