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21-Foot Waves, Wild Winds Assault West Michigan (ContributorNetwork)

It was a crazy day, weather-wise, in West Michigan and more is expected today and Saturday. Gale-force winds, 21-33 foot waves on Lake Michigan, torrential rains blasted the western counties. Temperatures are dropping into the 30s this evening. Over on the east side, Detroit gears up for 18-foot waves on Lake Huron and seven foot waves on little Lake St. Clair.

Michigan may not be seeing the hurricane winds and rains that plague Florida and the east coast, but gale force is enough to knock out the power and create hazards for locals. Most of Michigan is outlined in small craft advisories and all the lakes are pink, meaning gale-force winds on the lakes.

High winds and rain knocked down trees and damaged power lines in several areas in West Michigan. This came on top of storm damage along the lakeshore, earlier in the week, too. The Lake Express car ferry which shuttles passengers across Lake Michigan from Muskegon, Mich., to Milwaukee Wis., canceled scheduled passages on Friday, due to wind advisories on the lake. Ludington's S.S. Badger, a car and tourist ferry also canceled service.

Though not as large as Lake Superior up north, we locals have always referred to Lake Michigan as the "big lake." Winds and high waves on the lake, can be more difficult to navigate even than out on the ocean. Bill Moore, Sylva, N.C., is a seasoned boater. He also served on different ships in Vietnam.

He explains sailing on the Great Lakes is completely different than sailing on the ocean. For one thing, the Great Lakes are more like small seas, than lakes. On the ocean, high waves appear as swells. On the lake, there are shorter distances between waves especially close to shore and near harbors. Waves "crest" in a shorter space, creating white caps. 14-20 foot waves (the current highs) on the lake can be more treacherous because there are more of them in a smaller space.

Also, the majority of boats on the Great Lakes are speed boats, pleasure crafts, yachts, sailboats and fishing boats. These vessels aren't designed for rough seas. There are fewer safety requirements for these smaller boats. Life jackets, flares and safety equipment are mandatory, but skippers aren't made to take boater safety courses. Many do, but licenses aren't required.

When storms and rough waters hit, this means more amateur boaters are unprepared for conditions. It's essential that boaters respect the lake and it's capacity for danger. Boaters should keep a marine radio on board. Here are mobile weather alerts and cellphone apps for land and marine conditions.

Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes about wild weather from 25 years teaching science.


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