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Lake Michigan and Lake Huron lost almost 14 trillion gallons in past year; Why?

Posted on October 7, 2021

News Article from MLive. Read full news article HERE.

Most of the Great Lakes continue to have declining water levels from the record-high levels over the past few years. The water level decline of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron has been the most amazing.

Remember: Lake Michigan and Lake Huron share the same water level because the lakes are connected by free-flowing water through the Straits of Mackinac.

The water levels have been gradually increasing on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron since 2014. Lakes Michigan-Huron basically peaked last July in this recent water level rise. Now in the past year, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are declining rapidly.

great lakes water levels

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron water levels (in red) looking back to September 2019. (Data from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has measured the decline in water levels on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at 17 inches since July 2020.

One inch of water on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron represents 800 billion gallons of water. Getting out the big-number calculator shows a 17-inch decline is 13.6 trillion gallons of water on Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Why? Keith Kompoltowicz, hydrologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Detroit, says it’s easy to explain. Dry weather is the cause of the fast lake level decline. The lack of precipitation this winter, spring and early summer was the cause. Kompoltowicz reminds us the biggest drivers of water levels on the Great Lakes are precipitation, evaporation and runoff.

The image below shows much of Michigan has had only 75 percent to 90 percent of normal rainfall. The drainage basin of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron is most of Lower Michigan, and parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ontario.


Percentage of normal precipitation in the past year. (NOAA)

Kompoltowicz says the best way to see the dryness is to look at the U.S. Drought Monitor map from the height of this summer’s dryness.


Drought status on June 8, 2021

On June 8, most of Michigan was at least in moderate drought, and a large area was in severe drought.

Another oddity Kompoltowicz points out is the highest water level of this year. So far, Lake Michigan and Huron have been at their highest watermark in January 2021. If January remains the peak, it will mark only the third time since 1918 for a beginning-of-the-year high water level.

The water-level graph also shows the official water level forecast for the next six months. We certainly don’t have to worry about record high water levels anytime soon. Lake Michigan and Huron are forecast to continue to fall another 12 inches by January 2022. If we stay dry and the lakes fall to the lower end of the possibilities, the lakes will only be about six inches above the long-term average water level.

How quickly water levels can change on the Great Lakes.

Fall Color Predictions!

Posted on October 1, 2021

Article from MLive, read full article HERE.

Fall color will eventually happen in Michigan. However, the warmer than normal temperatures will continue to slow the fall color progression.

Fall color is brought on by chilly morning temperatures and reduced sunlight. Reduced sunlight can come from either later sunrises and earlier sunsets, and/or a long stretch of cloudy weather.

Of course, the shortening days always happen, and colder mornings eventually always happen. Therefore, fall color won’t be held off forever.

But the weather pattern over the next 10 days will have most days and nights several degrees warmer than normal. Sunshine is also going to be more common than cloudiness. In fact, look at the low temperature forecast for the next 10 days.


Low temperature forecast each morning from September 29 to October 7

The Upper Peninsula will have some mornings cooling into the low-to-mid 40s. That is certainly cool enough to help fall color develop. Even as i write this, Michigan Weather Facebook Group member Cheryl Sibole says, “In Michigamme the color is starting to rapidly change. Definitely over 50 percent.” Michigamme is inland in the western U.P., west of Marquette.

So it looks like there is no stopping the western U.P. fall color. Fall color should peak in the western U.P. by October 7. Plan a trip to the western U.P. for about seven to 10 days from now. And here is my favorite color tour tip- don’t go too early. If you trust my range of peak dates, take the later end of the range. The worst feeling in a color tour is to show up to green leaves. We love green in spring, but we want orange and red in fall.

Here was my first forecast for peak fall color for this fall 2021. It still seems to be accurate, but use the last date in the range, not the earliest date.

fall color

MLive/Mark Torregrossa estimated peak fall colors for 2021, produced on September 9, 2021. As of September 28, an updated tip is to plan a trip on the latest date of the estimated peak color range. (Mark Torregrossa/MLive)

You will likely even be able to see peak fall color across the U.P. a couple of days after my last date in the range. October 7, plus or minus a few days, would be a good time to stare your way across the U.P.

Northern Lower is slow to change this year. That was anticipated in my early September fall color forecast, given the expected warmer than normal conditions into late September. I would now add three days to the peak viewing time in northern Lower Michigan, bringing peak color in the week centered around October 13.

up color

CR-510 Bridge area in Negaunee, MI on September 28, 2021. (Photo provided by Cheryl Sibole)

The southern half of Lower Michigan will have a tough time being much later than the dates shown on the graphic below. By late October there just isn’t enough daylight to keep the leaves from changing color.

Use just a slight tweaking to the anticipated peak fall color date. Have a little patience. You can start the fall color tour in the western U.P. this weekend, and then have your hands full deciding where to go each weekend through October. I’ll help you with that.

One more note- Many of the fall color predictions I saw, using unknown forecasting techniques, have been way too early.

Super-charged poison ivy?

Posted on August 12, 2021

Poison ivy is high on the list of things that bum us out in the summertime. And now, scientists say that climate change may be making it even more miserable.

It’s the oil called urushiol in poison ivy’s leaves that we react to—when it comes into contact with the skin, it causes an itchy, painful rash. If you can get the area washed off (preferably with dish soap to cut the oil) within about 30 minutes of exposure, you can usually be ok. But if not, look out. You’re gonna be pretty uncomfortable for the next two to three weeks.

And now thanks to climate change, it might be getting even more potent. Why? Poison ivy thrives on increased carbon dioxide in the environment, growing up to twice as large. Carbon dioxide helps the plant with photo synthesis and water usage. Scientists say it also prompts it to produce more urushiol, which will make it more potent.

Poison ivy also likes the warmer soil we are seeing as temperatures rise. In one experiment conducted at Harvard, an increase of 9°F in soil temperature resulted in poison ivy growing 149 percent faster! In the same conditions, other plants grow only about 10-20 percent faster.

This faster-growing, more potent poison ivy isn’t great for forests either. While it is native to most woodlands, if it spreads too quickly it can outcompete native plants and trees, potentially causing a forest-management concern.

So be careful out there! Learn how to identify poison ivy, wear closed shoes and long pants while hiking, and do your part to combat climate change! We are pretty sure we don’t need our poison ivy to be any more irritating.

Nature's Light Show!

Posted on June 11, 2021

Our favorite light show of the summer isn’t necessarily 4th of July fireworks, or stars in a clear night sky (though we do love those too!). It’s the beautiful twinkle of fireflies decorating an evening landscape. They are such a common sight that we rarely pause to think about what a fascinating phenomenon we are witnessing. I mean, they light up! That’s kind of amazing, right? 

 So what creates that lovely glow? Well, they have special light organs located under their abdomens. When the bugs take in oxygen, the cells in these organs combine it with a substance called luciferin, which produces a "cold light" with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. And why do they do this? To attract mates, why else?

These insects (actually members of the beetle family) only live two to four weeks once they've reached their adult stage. That means they only have two to four weeks to mate. And when you are a little black bug looking for OTHER little black bugs flying around in the dark? It's really helpful to have a flashing beacon on your rear end. Generally, fireflies flash their lights intermittently, in patterns unique to each species. Get a lot of them looking for love in one area, and you've got a pretty cool light show. 

Fireflies also flash as a defense mechanism. We don’t know this from experience, but we’ve been told that fireflies taste pretty bad. The lights are like a signal lamp flashing morse code to predators: "I’m not food! Move along!"  
There is one exception to this: the female fireflies of a particular genus, Photuris. These "femme fatales", as they are known to entomologists for reasons that will soon become apparent, are able to expertly mimic the different flashing patterns of other genuses, tricking a hapless male into thinking he has found a mate. Instead, the photuris firefly EATS HIM. See, photuris don't naturally have the yucky-tasting compounds that make other fireflies distasteful to predators... but they can absorb them by eating the fireflies that do have them. Moreover, they can then pass them on to their own eggs to defend the next generation. And you thought the human dating scene was stressful! 

So the next time you are watching a firefly light display, keep in mind the drama that is really happening before your very eyes! 

Trees, Trees, and More Trees!

Posted on May 14, 2021

Image at left: mapping the new trees at Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve

More cool stuff is happening at Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve! After we conducted the prescribed burn as a part of the prairie restoration there in early April, we've been busy planting trees as we work on the forest restoration process. Side note: look at all the vegetation coming back, just one month post-burn! 

In fact, this week we planted 2,500 trees, consisting of  21 species, at three different preserves: Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve, Leonard Wildlife Preserve, and the Merritt/Younger Family Preserves. These trees are helping revegetate old agricultural fields at the Memorial and Leonard Preserves, and are filling in gaps from previous logging activity at Merritt/Younger. 

The planting was funded by The Wildlife Society through their Climate Adaptation grant. The goal of the grant, and our project, is to plant trees that should be well adapted to future climate conditions in this area, thus providing sustainable wildlife habitat. We have lots more restoration projects and recreational improvements to come this year at all of these preserves, and at our new Sugarwood Forest Preserve! Stay tuned!