Sandy drives massive waves onto Chicago's lakefront
The superstorm hundreds of miles to the east brought spectacular waves and whipping winds to Chicago's lakefront Tuesday, turning popular beaches into desolate stretches of sand.
The steady stream of joggers and cyclists who normally make North Avenue Beach part of their morning workout were nowhere to be found. Instead, just a handful of photo enthusiasts and curious spectators dotted the landscape, at times narrowly avoiding violent spray from the nearly 20-foot waves crashing on the soaked pavement.
Among them was Chicagoan Alain Marginean, who's taken roughly 10,000 photos of the Windy City's frequent weather events.
"I wouldn't miss this for anything," he said. "This is definitely on par with the blizzard last year."
Just as impressive as the waves were the whipping wind and gusts of nearly 50 mph.
Gino Izzi, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, said wind gusts averaged between 30 to 40 mph in the Chicago area and 45 mph along the Chicago lakefront. Gary Airport recorded a 58 mph gust, while Michigan City, Ind., saw a 69 mph gust.
"We're probably peaking right now," Izzi said Tuesday afternoon. "The wind will stay steady and then subside some tonight."
The strong winds have made for rough waters, with a buoy about 40 miles southeast of Milwaukee recording a 20-foot-wave Tuesday morning, Izzi said. That's second only to a 22.8-foot-wave in November 2011.
Izzi, who said the buoy doesn't record waves in the winter, estimated waves between 15 to 20 feet in Chicago.
"It's actually much more fierce in Northwest Indiana because the wind is out of the northwest," Izzi said. "The longer the winds blow over the lake, the more intense it will be, and they have more of that lake real estate."
A wind advisory in Chicago will remained in affect through the afternoon, while a lakeshore flood warning for Chicago and Northwest Indiana won't expire until Wednesday afternoon.
Chicago Park District officials closed the lakefront trail between North Avenue and Ohio Street, and wooden barriers blocked off a section near Fullerton Avenue due to flooding.
Chicago police also patrolled beaches in their squad cars to ensure no surfers took advantage of the choppy conditions, though several reportedly rode the waves at 57th Street Beach.
Several spectators hoping to get a glimpse from a safer vantage point could be found farther north along higher ground. Leah Miller and Jill Brown joined a small crowd at Montrose Avenue Beach, near where they live.
"This is a once in a lifetime thing," Miller said. "I've never seen anything it."
Added Brown, "I used to live in New Jersey, and this reminds me of the ocean on a rough day."
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