Sandy’s Lake Michigan Waves Nothing To Write Home About

Get ready for a rant everybody.

It seems that Sandy’s reach to the Midwest has brought every amatuer Lake Enthusiast out of the woodwork, and down to the beaches and marinas of the state. I saw report after report on the news about the “massive waves” that Sandy brought into the Midwest.

I distinctly remember one guy who mentioned that he came down with his camera to “photograph history”, because “you don’t get waves like this in Lake Michigan” or something to that effect. Yes, I’m paraphrasing a bit because I don’t remember verbatim what this fellow said, but that’s not the point.

Hurricane Sandy's Lake Michigan waves - big, but not historic...

Image Credit  Hurricane Sandy’s Lake Michigan waves – big, but not historic…

The point is the he openly admitted to not heading to the lake with regularity because he thought there was never anything special going on. Well I can tell you, folks, this guy and all the news people spouting the same thing simply don’t know what they’re talking about. And why should they? It makes perfect sense to me that someone that doesn’t routinely check the waves on Lake Michigan wouldn’t know much about them, but of course here he is just making things up as he goes, and the news people are reporting it as the truth.

This really highlights two problems:

  1. People that have lived in Wisconsin,  right on the shores of Lake Michigan all their lives, barely know anything about the lake, and
  2. Journalistic integrity has really gone downhill in the last…what? Decade or so? Maybe only in the last five years, but you get my point.

I’m not going to even touch the latter point, because that’s not what this blog is about. So let’s focus in on Lake Michigan.

Let Me Tell You About The Waves On Lake Michigan

Personally, I didn’t even go down to the lake to check out the waves. I was going to, because the NOAA maps for Lake Michigan did look pretty enticing. There was the potential for 12ft waves hitting the shores in Milwaukee, and while that is nowhere near the biggest waves I’ve seen here, it’s still exciting.

But before I could even get down there, I saw local news stations doing interviews from the McKinely Marina – right where I normally go for good wave viewing action. People were standing on the cement walls in front of the breakwater rocks and weren’t even getting wet. If you can stand on those walls and not get routinely destroyed by waves, then it’s simply NOT that spectacular of a show.

At the worst of times, I’ve parked with the nose of my vehicle 10ft away from the wall, and the waves went completely over the backside of my car. I’ve seen the waves smack the wall where the flagpole is and launch so high into the air that they soaked the flag.

Where big waves, hit and where Sandy's waves hit. Big differnce...

The reason most people in Milwaukee don’t know about these huge waves is simple – because going out to see them sucks! I’ve worn all the warmest, most waterproof gear I own – all the same things I wear while camping in the dead of winter – and was chilled to the bone within 40 seconds of leaving my car.

Invariably, the biggest waves come from the worst storms, and the worst storms always peak when the sun is down. Not too many Milwaukeeans think of heading to the Lakefront at 3:00AM in the middle of a raging blizzard, but I’ve been there and seen some waves I didn’t know where possible on the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, the huge storm causing the waves is also the reason I don’t have images of them.

For those that don’t know, Milwaukee’s lakefront is gloriously un-built-up. There isn’t much in the way of ambient lighting down there, and when storms are raging there is no moonlight to help you take pictures of what’s going on. Add that to the fact that most consumer-model waterproof cameras (like mine) have very small, low-speed lenses, and you’ve got the perfect storm for not being able to record the perfect storm.

Chicken Joe Know’s What’s Up

I know I’m not an expert on Lake Michigan or its waves, but I guess you could say I’m … an enthusiast? If there is such a thing ;)

I watch the wave reports, I go out of my way to go see monster storms on the lake and freeze my butt off in the process, I’ve kayaked in Lake Michigan the day after a massive storm and had to roll with the waves to keep from tipping over. I’ve even swam in the waters at the South Shore Yacht Club (I tripped on what I can only surmise was a human skull on my way out, and hosed myself off with peroxide after the swim – not recommended), so I suppose I’ve spent more time with the lake than most.

There’s a lot about Lake Michigan that many people who live right around it don’t even know about. Not many know that there are people who surf on the great lakes, or that there are 600ft sand dunes on the Michigan side. Even Hollywood knows that people surf on the great lakes! Chicken Joe – proudly representing Sheboygan, WI – did win the surf competition, after all.

I can tell you that some amazing stuff did happen in other great lakes. 25ft waves in the Southern part of Huron? Amazing! 16ft waves in Erie and Ontario? Newsworthy! 12ft predicted waves with reality being 6-8 feet in Michigan? Yawn…

I’m thinking about trying my luck surfing Lake Michigan this year, and I’m in no way disappointed that my inaugural surf expedition wasn’t out there with Sandy’s waves.

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