It's official:  the summer of 2021 drought has caused Lake Superior's water levels to fall below normal; that drop below average water levels is the first time that the Great Lake has been in that situation for more than seven years.

Our summer-long stretch of dry weather has had drastic effect on the largest of the Great Lakes.  Research data from the International Lake Superior Board of Control shows that Lake Superior is currently "10.2 inches below the level at this time in 2020" - almost a foot low.

While the low water levels come as no surprise to anyone living in the Arrowhead region, it does mark a reversal of fortune for the watershed.  Prior to the middle of the 2010's, Lake Superior had suffered a number of years of diminishing water levels. According to an article in the Superior Telegram, "[t]he last time Lake Superior was below normal was April 2014".

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Those lower water levels don't just amount to numbers on a measuring stick, they also translate into noticeable and tangible side-effects:

"With the lake now down more than a foot since the highest levels in 2019, that's billions of gallons less water across Lake Superior's 31,700 square miles.  Not only does the lake drop vertically, but the water's edge pulls farther out from the shore, creating noticeably wider beaches and offering more buffer when storms occur."

That buffer zone created by the drought situation is an unexpected benefit for many who live along the shores of Lake Superior and for the municipalities that have infrastructure built along it.  There are many examples locally of the damage that high water levels and storms can do:

"The recent streak of high water was also the root cause of millions of dollars in damage along the western tip of Lake Superior.  The combination of high water during high-wind storm events caused erosion of clay banks on Wisconsin's South Shore and of sand along Duluth's Park Point.  They also trashed Duluth's Brighton Beach and sent waves rising up to smash Duluth's Lakewalk trails and flood Canal Park streets."

It's said that you need to "accentuate the positive"; it can be the same way during the current drought.  While the dry conditions are brutal on crops and farms and bring dangers with wildfire and the like, a little "give and take" for the water levels of Lake Superior might not be a long-term bad thing.  For sure it gives landowners a chance to repair, regroup, and plan for the next period of higher water levels - which are sure to come.  Charles Sidick, an Analyst for the United States Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit offers that "'[m]ore damage occurs during high-water periods, definitely".

Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

So when can we expect a reversal of the drought and the water level situation for Lake Superior?  No one knows with confidence.   The immediate short-term six month forecast for the Lake Superior area is for "near average water levels".  But that can  (and usually does) change.  Historically speaking, periods of high-water levels usually follow periods of lower-water levels:

"The seven years of above-normal water levels [2014-2021] came after an unusually long below-normal period that lasted from about 1998 to 2014, bottoming out with record monthly low water levels in fall 2007, when Great Lakes freighters were having a hard time accessing some ports, with some running at reduced capacity".

The numbers will continue to be what they will.  One thing is for sure - you can't control the weather.

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