By Mary Kay Kleist

CHICAGO (CBS) — Water levels in Lake Michigan have been below average for several years, but that’s changing now.

The long-term average is 579 feet, currently it’s up to 580 feet, CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports.

Because we are used to levels being down for a while, the change is more noticeable, especially on a day when there is a strong onshore flow, creating high waves.

“It’s less room for the dogs to run and get their exercise,” said dog owner Shelia Johnson, on a recent visit to Foster Beach. “It’s kind of disappointing; it’s such a beautiful lakefront.”

What causes the fluctuations in lake levels?

Rain and snow over the lakes, evaporation, and runoff. It’s the long-term precipitation and temperature trends that make the difference.

With a strong El Nino in place right now, that could mean a drier, milder winter. But would that have an effect on lake levels? Not likely, since the watershed is huge, covering thousands of square miles all the way up to Canada.

Forecasters say lake levels should remain above average through next summer.

Mary Kay Kleist