National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Strong to Severe Storms expected this evening

Strong to Severe storms are expected this evening associated with a line of storms moving onshore from Lake Michigan. Primary threats from these storms will be large hail and damaging winds. Low temperatures tonight will remain mild and in the 50s. Read More >

October 16th, 2019: Large Waves, High Winds, and Beach Erosion


A view of an angry Lake Michigan taken in South Haven on October 16th, 2019. Waves as large as 11.8 feet were measured by a buoy offshore of South Haven. 


On Wednesday, October 16th, 2019, a storm system brought high winds and large waves to the West Michigan lakeshore. Wind gusts topped 50 mph and waves grew to more than 10 feet in height, downing trees along the lakeshore and causing significant beach and sand dune erosion.  In the hardest hit areas, 10 to 20 feet of dune bluff was eroded in a 12 hour period due to the combination of near-record Lake Michigan water levels, a 1-foot "surge" water rise, and large waves. Additionally, water due to waves crashing onshore as well as water pushed back into river channels flooded roads, parks, and parking lots - especially in Muskegon, Saugatuck, and South Haven. 


This was the largest and most destructive storm we've experienced with Lake Michigan water levels at near-record water levels so far this fall. With Lake Michigan water levels expected to remain high at least through the beginning of 2020, the risk of continued erosion will remain for the foreseeable future. 





Large Waves:

Large waves developed on Lake Michigan within long northwesterly fetch. The biggest waves channeled into a zone from Holland to South Haven where buoys measured peak wave heights over 10 feet. 


Time series of wave heights measured by the buoy near Holland, Michigan on October 16th, 2019. The largest wave height measured was 12.1 feet at approximately 11:50 AM EDT. 


Time series of wave heights measured by the buoy near South Haven, Michigan on October 16th, 2019. The largest wave height measured was 11.8 feet at 12:10, 2:00, and 3:00 PM EDT. 


The large waves were only one factor that led to the significant beach and sand dune erosion.  The sustained strong winds led to a "surge" of water into the eastern half of Lake Michigan, with a 1 foot non-wave water rise measured in Holland!  This type of water rise is similar to a storm surge in a hurricane, where winds literally push water toward land. 


Time series of observed water levels measured in Holland, Michigan on October 16th, 2019. The gauge is located on the southern side of Holland State Park beach within the break water piers. 


Not to be forgotten, the average water level on Lake Michigan was roughly 2.6 feet (~31 inches) above normal which is near-record level. Taken altogether, the conditions on Lake Michigan led to significant beach and bluff erosion. 


nws logo Media use of NWS Web News Stories is encouraged!
Please acknowledge the NWS as the source of any news information accessed from this site.
nws logo