Lake Michigan and Lake Huron hit the lowest water levels ever recorded on the Great Lakes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said tests taken in January show the lakes were 29 inches below their long-term average and had declined 17 inches since January 2012.
The other Great Lakes, Superior, Erie and Ontario were also well below average.
Scientists say the drought and other natural forces, along with dredging of rivers that drain from the lakes, have contributed to the level drops.
Low water causes economic concerns by forcing cargo ships to carry lighter loads, leaving boat docks high and dry, and damaging fish spawning areas.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports a preliminary new record low water level for Lake Michigan-Huron for the second month in a row.
The new record low of 175.57 meters or 576.02 feet is not only the lowest January monthly average water level ever recorded, but also the lowest monthly average ever recorded for any month over the official period of record for Great Lakes water levels, which extends back to 1918.
The Corps latest forecasts indicate a strong likelihood for continued record lows on Lake Michigan-Huron over the next several months.Water levels on the remaining Great Lakes are expected to remain below their respective long-term average water levels, but above record lows.
"Not only have water levels on Michigan-Huron broken records the past two months, but they have been very near record lows for the last several months before then.Lake Michigan-Huron's water levels have also been below average for the past 14 years, which is the longest period of sustained below average levels since 1918 for that lake" said John Allis, Chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office at the Corps, the office that monitors Great Lakes water levels.
The current record low water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron are the result of lower than average snowfall during the winter of 2011-2012, coupled with the very hot and dry summer.Together these conditions led to only a 4 inch seasonal rise of Lake Michigan-Huron in 2012, compared to an average rise of 12 inches.Also, evaporation was significantly above average during the summer and fall months and contributed to a very rapid seasonal decline.
Above average precipitation and snow cover coupled with below average evaporation this winter are needed to raise Lake Michigan-Huron water levels above record lows.However, it would take similar conditions over many seasons for levels to rise to near average levels.