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Runoff in the Great Lakes basin consists of inflow to any of the Great Lakes from tributaries as well as any other water that flows over the land into the lakes.

Runoff is affected by meteorological variables as well as physical characteristics of the area. Meteorological factors include type, amount, intensity, duration, and location of precipitation, as well as evapotranspiration from the land. Physical factors include land use, vegetation, soil type and moisture, topography, drainage systems, elevation and shape of the basin, and other bodies of water that could prevent runoff from continuing downstream.