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Rain lifts lake level, but only briefly

Corps expects Lanier to continue downward trend in summer

POSTED: July 17, 2012 11:00 p.m.

The level of Lake Lanier has risen from 1,063.50 feet above sea level at midnight on July 10 to 1,063.62 feet at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday.

While that sounds like a steady upward trend, a closer look shows it’s been anything but.

More than half of that increase occurred between July 10 and 11, according to the website of the U.S. Geological Survey. The lake’s level in the past week was as low as 1,063.47 feet at 3 p.m. July 10 but had rebounded to 1,063.58 feet by 5:45 a.m. on July 11.

But the level didn’t climb steadily upward from there, either, or even stay put for a while. It went as low as 1,063.52 feet at 11:30 p.m. last Thursday. At the height of Monday’s thunderstorm that dumped more than a half-inch of rain on the area in less than an hour, the level spiked to 1,063.78 feet at 3:45 p.m. but dropped to 1,063.70 feet by the next reading at 4 p.m.

Just after that 11:30 p.m. Thursday reading, rain rolled into the area with more than an inch falling between midnight and 7 a.m. Friday, lifting the lake to 1,063.68 feet by 9:30 a.m. By 4 p.m., the level had drifted down to 1,063.62 feet, but another half-inch-plus of rain between then and 2 a.m. Saturday sent the level as high as a 1,063.67 reading at 5:15 p.m.

The pattern of the lake’s level spiking up when rain falls and drifting back down afterward “is going to continue,” said E. Patrick Robbins, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers Mobile district, which manages Lanier.

“Just because it’s raining on Lanier doesn’t mean it’s raining in the whole system,” he said, “and each lake in the system has to support that level.”

The pattern won’t change until the area gets “significant rain,” Robbins said, defining that as “several days.”

“We’re storing everything we can,” he said, but an overall downward trend in the lake’s level is likely to continue.

The website of the corps’ Mobile district predicts the level will drop to 1,062.7 feet by the week of Aug. 12.

Robbins also cited drought as a factor in the lake’s struggle to hold its level. He said the ground was likely absorbing the lion’s share of any rain that falls and also said evaporation “plays into that.”

The area’s chances of more rain, which could at least temporarily lift the lake level, appear to be increasing for the next couple of days.

The National Weather Service forecasts a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 10 a.m., today. That rises to a 50 percent chance Thursday and a 60 percent chance on Friday.


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