Water, Water (Almost) Everywhere
by CRAIG JAMES
Can you believe Lake Michigan has nearly three trillion more gallons of water in it than at this time last month? With the wet spring we have had, the lake has risen seven inches since mid April, which translates to 2.73 trillion gallons more water. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Michigan is still about two inches below last year at this time and 16 inches below the long-term average for May. Lake Michigan is an amazing 47 inches below the highest level of record set back in 1986, but it is 13 inches higher than the lowest level of record set in 1996.
Lakes Erie and Ontario are above average for this time of year. In fact, Lake Ontario is up 18 inches from last year and is now six inches above its long-term average for May. Lake Michigan is expected to come up another three inches by mid June; Lake Superior may rise another four inches, while the eastern lakes should remain nearly unchanged. The total increase of water in the five Great Lakes in the last month is over 11 TRILLION gallons!
Farther south, the Corps of Engineers is releasing water through spillways on the Mississippi River to prevent another flood the magnitude of the 1927 flood, which is the worst flood ever recorded for that river.
The water is flowing at the rate of 1.5 million cubic feet per second through the river between Arkansas and Mississippi. Last Sunday, May 15, the Grand River in Grand Rapids was flowing at just 7.6 thousand cubic feet per second. An engineer has calculated that at the rate the Mississippi is flowing, the water could completely fill the Superdome in New Orleans in just 50 seconds.
Opening the spillway will release enough water to submerge about 3,000 square miles of land under as much as 25 feet of water. This will take the pressure off the downstream levees protecting New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower reaches of the Mississippi. However, it could mean ruin to many of the farmers who grow crops in the flooded area.
The government tells us there is little inflation. However, the index of commodities shows the price of cotton, corn and soybeans has risen 50% to 100% since last year. The farmers who are now flooded were counting on the higher prices this year pulling many of them out of debt, but not now. The river’s rise may also force the closing of the river to shipping, from Baton Rouge to the mouth of the Mississippi. That would cause grain barges from the heartland to stack up, along with other commodities, costing the U.S. economy hundreds of millions of dollars per day.
Not far west of the Mississippi River, it is a lack of water causing problems. The first map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NOAA shows much of Texas and New Mexico in what is termed an “exceptional” drought. Over 48% of Texas is in an exceptional drought. In parts of southeastern New Mexico, no measurable precipitation has been recorded for three to six months.
The drought is expected to persist in most areas through at least the end of July. Crop losses in Texas alone could exceed $3 billion dollars.
Still farther to the west and northwest, the second map shows stream flow forecasts. No forecasts have been made for the areas in white but the blue, green and purple colors indicate that due to melting of above average snowfall, stream flows are expected to be 100% to 200% of normal. Farmers in these areas are delighted. They will have plenty of water for irrigation. Farming is tough. One farmer in Louisiana stated he will have enough money from insurance after bills are paid to go to a movie, but only if it is dollar night.
Craig James has been retired since July 1, 2008, after 40 years of broadcasting television weather. He was chief meteorologist at WZZM-TV for 12 years and chief meteorologist at WOOD-TV for 24 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University, where he received a Centennial Fellowship Award. He was also honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.