High Wind Lake Michigan Storms Rare in Late Winter

Lake Michigan was angry this weekend as winds whipped off the water with gusts over 50 miles per hour.

“That’s typically where our strongest winds are going to be,” says Ernie Ostuno, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Grad Rapids.

These big wind storms, creating waves well over 15 feet in Lake Michigan come once every decade at this time of year. They are more common in the fall.

“Usually on average we go a couple of years without seeing one like this,” says Ostuno.

When we get these big wind storms in the Fall, much of the damage is from beach erosion. Since it is coming in the winter, the waves meet ice stacked up on the shoreline that’s created a natural break wall. This helps mitigate some of the damage from the 10 to 15 foot waves that came crashing through.

“We had ice mounds probably 10-20 feet high on some of the sandbars,” says Ostuno, “Waves are hitting those and break up the waves before they get anywhere near shore.”

The raw power of the waves was seen up and down the coast at ports and mouths of rivers. Also where people tend to take risks to witness the power of the lake.

“A lot of people actually want to get out, get close to it to see the waves crashing over the breakwall,” says Coast Guard Station Manistee Supervisor James Myjak, “So some will go out, maybe a little bit too far, and they realize the waves are actually crashing pretty close to them. That’s one of the big danger areas.”

“Now they are getting the waves crashing right over the walls and they can sweep you right off,” says Ostuno, “Just one or 2 feet of water moving that fast, you cannot fight.”

This looks to be the “Big One” this winter but winter is almost done.

“Then we get in the spring time,” says Ostuno, “And all bets are off.”