Great Lakes water levels and NOAA

NOAA plays a major role in monitoring, researching, and forecasting water levels in the Great Lakes and prioritizes making water level data and products publicly available. NOAA offices throughout the region provide critical warnings to the public in the event of river and lakeshore flooding. Our series of cutting-edge water level gauges throughout the Great Lakes allow for continuous monitoring of water level fluctuations in real time. Plus, NOAA's ongoing research facilitates the development of Great Lakes hydrodynamic and hydrologic models, which produce short-term and seasonal forecasts of water level changes. 

NOAA monitors Great Lakes water levels.

A crucial step in understanding Great Lakes water levels is monitoring their changes. NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) maintains a network of 53 water level gauges throughout the U.S. waters of the Great Lakes, which continuously monitor water levels in real-time with extreme precision. (They can detect water level changes as small as the thickness of a credit card!) Meanwhile, NOAA’s National Weather Service River Forecast Centers monitor river levels at over 500 locations in the Great Lakes.

Additional water level monitoring efforts by NOAA include collaborating with U.S. and Canadian agencies to update the International Great Lakes Datum and maintain a Bi-National Precipitation Tool. offsite link

NOAA researches Great Lakes water levels

NOAA has a long-standing critical role in the development of tools required for seasonal to multi-year water level forecasts and long-term monitoring of how water flows in and out of the Great Lakes.

Water level research conducted by NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory focuses on better understanding and predicting the key factors driving Great Lakes seasonal to interannual water level changes, including precipitation that falls on the lake surfaces, evaporation that occurs from the lake surface, and runoff of water from land and rivers.

NOAA supports and educates communities impacted by Great Lakes water levels

At NOAA, communicating and managing the impacts of Great Lakes water levels is just as important as studying them. NOAA supports and educates the Great Lakes community on water levels through efforts like coastal management programs, data portals, informational web pages and public webinars. This work is done not only by NOAA but also by its core grant-funded partners, which help identify, communicate, and respond to regional water level needs.

NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management (OCM) works with coastal communities to help them effectively manage their coastal zones and resources, many of which are greatly affected by changes in Great Lakes water levels. NOAA’s coastal management programs work with federal, state, and local governments to address challenges presented by fluctuating water levels, such as erosion, flooding, and habitat loss. NOAA Digital Coast is home to a vast collection of coastal data, interactive visualization and decision support tools, as well as learning resources through coastal training curricula and on demand products.

Finally, NOAA prioritizes sharing our water level knowledge with the community. NOAA regularly hosts webinars addressing climate and water levels in the Great Lakes, and also works with partner agencies to produce the Midwestern Regional Climate Center’s offsite link quarterly Great Lakes Climate and Outlooks Report. offsite link 

Additional Great Lakes Water Level Resources