A recent report published by an environmental group found that the extraordinarily wet spring weather Michigan has experienced this year, generating heavy rains and flooding, serves as the “new normal” for the Great Lakes region in the coming years and decades.

The study confirms other research by climate scientists that indicates the region faces changes in precipitation, temperature and lake levels that will affect farmers, waterfront homeowners and commuters who drive on low-lying highways.

“This report paints a stark picture of changes in store for the lake(s) as a result of our changing climate,” the study concluded. Meanwhile, two researchers who specialize in hydrology and climate science warn that “rapid transitions between extreme high and low water levels in the Great Lakes represent the ‘new normal.’”

Some 18 scientists, most from Midwestern universities and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), produced the report in March for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The Great Lakes region is warming faster than the rest of the continental U.S., a trend that is likely to bring more extreme storms while also degrading water quality, worsening shoreline erosion and posing tougher challenges for farming.

The Detroit Free Press reports that this is the third straight wet spring in Michigan that has thrown corn and soybean farming into chaos, and it’s the worst of the three.

Climate scientists project that continued warming this century in the Great Lakes region will make rainier, stormier springs a more regular occurrence.

The increases in temperature and precipitation are connected. Rising air temperatures increase evaporation from soil, plants and lakes, which boosts the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. As the air warms, it will hold more moisture, which will likely mean heavier winter snowstorms and spring rains. This could also bring more flooding in vulnerable inland areas, such as along rivers and canals.

Other research that predicts that the wild swings in Great Lakes water levels may be foremost among the changes in the uncharted territory that lies ahead for the region.

Starting in the late 1990s, surface water temperatures on Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron rose rapidly. That led to much quicker rates of lake water evaporation and the water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron dropped to their lowest levels ever recorded.

Then in 2014 the Midwest experienced an extraordinary cold air outbreak, known as the “polar vortex.” The lakes froze and evaporation rates dropped. As a result, water levels surged.

The 2019 flooding along portions of the lakes’ shoreline followed the wettest U.S. winter in history and the second-wettest month of May on record.


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