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It's Not Just the East Coast: Chicago Could See Waves as High as 23 Feet

Hurricane Sandy's impact won't spare the Midwest.

While most of the nation's eyes are on the tidal swamping of the East Coast, there's something ominous happening in the Midwest that also deserves attention. Take a look at today's weather watches/warnings map from the National Weather Service:

See the part of Lake Michigan that's gone all eggplant? That's the signifier of a "lakeshore flood warning" for Chicago and its suburbs. Hurricane Sandy is so intense that it's expected to do a sort of victory tour of the United States after thrashing the Atlantic coast, and its ferocious winds are likely to push waves on the Great Lakes up to insane heights.

Forecasters expect the freak waves to begin around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning and settle down late Wednesday afternoon. Persistent gusts of up to 60 m.p.h. could generate waves as high as 23 feet, about as tall as an elephant stacked on top of another elephant. The lake assault will cause parts of the shore to crumble and flood; particularly at risk are the Lake Shore bike path and spots along South Lake Shore Drive.

This phenomenon is quite similar to what happened during the Chicago storm of September, 2011, when strong winds and a swollen Lake Michigan conspired to take out hapless joggers and bikers near the shore. If you don't recall that mess, here's the stupefying footage (skip to 1:20 for the carnage):

This is a closer-up look at last year's monster swells near Belmont Harbor. That guy watching them seems remarkably composed, all things considered:

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.