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Great Lakes Seiche - seen one?

Old 02-26-2005, 04:07 PM
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Default Great Lakes Seiche - seen one?

'Seiche' phenomenon hits often, sometimes kills

July 4, 1929, at Grand Haven State Park, when killer waves swept 10 people to their deaths on one of the deadliest holidays in West Michigan history. The culprit here was not a tsunami, but a seiche (pronounced "saysh"). Created by high winds or squall lines that exert intense downward pressure, seiches can make Lake Michigan slosh back and forth like water in a bathtub, sending powerful waves racing to the shorelines.
Most Great Lakes seiches are small and go unnoticed, but the phenomenon can trigger huge storm surges and tidal waves that quickly alter Great Lakes water levels.
Seiche is a French word that means "to sway back and forth." To understand how a seiche works, blow on a bowl of soup. The tiny waves hit one side of the bowl and reverberate to the other side. A seiche works the same way, but on lakes that span thousands of square miles.
That's precisely what happened in 1929, when 45,000 people gathered at Grand Haven State Park on Independence Day. An early morning storm spawned a seiche that kicked up large waves; one swept a 16-year-old Grand Rapids girl off the breakwater and into Lake Michigan, where she drowned.
A second seiche swept across the lake about five hours later, unleashing a wall of water that lashed the Grand Haven beach with 20-foot waves and a powerful undertow that pulled nine more people to their deaths.
Bob Beaton, a longtime Grand Haven resident and surfer, said the scariest thing about seiches is that they can strike when the lake is calm.
Seiches also create fierce rip currents below the surface when the lake level rises and then recedes rapidly. "The waves don't scare me, it's the current that drowns people," Beaton said.
On July 13, 1938, a seiche caused a massive storm surge that stretched from Holland to Pentwater, according to an article in Hope College's Joint Archives Quarterly. Waves triggered by the seiche drowned three people at Holland State Park.
A seiche that struck Chicago without warning on a June morning in 1954 increased the lake's water level by 4 feet in just 30 minutes. The rising water was followed by a massive wave, 25 miles wide and as high as 20 feet in some areas, that swept dozens of people off piers. Eight people drowned. Schwab said the killer wave bounced off the Michigan coast before pounding Chicago, pushing water in some areas 100 feet inland of some beaches.
Two years later, a seiche triggered a 10-foot swell in Ludington that sent anglers and beachgoers scrambling for safety. The first swell knocked several anglers off the pier and pushed water 150 feet past the normal water line. The water then receded beyond the water line before a second, larger wave crashed ashore. Carol Dewyer, who operated a bait shop near the north breakwater, was quoted at the time as saying the seiche caused pandemonium on the pier and beach.
"All of a sudden a man said the water was coming in the door of the shop and everyone scrambled for high ground," Dewyer was quoted as saying. "I saw one little boy slip off the breakwater and couldn't get his footing. Then some man ran out in the waves and brought him in," Dewyer added. "All those people (on the breakwater) just threw down their poles and bait buckets and scrambled for the bank."
The storm surge was followed by a squall line that buffeted Ludington with 80 mph winds and heavy rainfall.
Seiches can slosh back and forth across the Great Lakes for hours, depending on the weather conditions. For that reason, the National Weather Service recommends people use caution when swimming in the Great Lakes or venturing out on piers before or after a squall line passes through.
The weather service issues seiche warnings when conditions are right for a storm surge on the lakes.
Beaton, who has surfed the Great Lakes since 1962, said he sees several seiches each year. His most recent encounter with a seiche came while surfing north of the Muskegon breakwater last October. "I see evidence of seiches in Lake Michigan pretty often," he said. "They're not big very often, but I've seen the lake go up or down by a foot in a matter of 30 minutes."
Beaton said listening to weather forecasts is the only way to know if conditions are right for a seiche. He said it's impossible for a lay person to anticipate a seiche by observing the lake or approaching storms. "It's like trying to predict an earthquake," he said.
Reported by Jeff Alexander, Muskegon Chronicle

3 pics I took in 85' at Holland State Park - inside the breakwater. They are only taken a few minutes apart. Thats the USCG 44 boys heading out for some "surf rescue". Lake was really riled up and all of a sudden the sun came out and there was something real weird going on. Kind of flattened the water right out! Crap pics - arrow in the last points to the 44'.

Last edited by woogie; 07-24-2007 at 05:00 PM.
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Old 02-26-2005, 05:40 PM
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Default Re: Great Lakes Seiche - seen one?

woogie: we just got back from lake michigan. no seiche today but it sure has nice to be back there. interesting reading.
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Old 02-26-2005, 08:04 PM
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Default Re: Great Lakes Seiche - seen one?

Interesting stuff. Read about that phenomenon before but in my 47 years I've never experienced one.
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Old 02-26-2005, 08:36 PM
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Default Re: Great Lakes Seiche - seen one?

I had a condo on the Black river in South Haven, MI and one day I was sitting on the deck and noticed the water was going upstream at a fast pace. I watched it raise about a foot and a half in less than a hour. Then it sort of stopped then began to flow out to the lake. I had never seen that happen before and was confused about what was going on. Later I leaned that it was a seiche.
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