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Crews prepare beach for 15th annual Polar Bear Plunge

Work Municipal Beach Monday Dec. 30 included removing build-up s ice from breakwall south end. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media

Work at Municipal Beach on Monday, Dec. 30, included removing a build-up of sand and ice from a breakwall on the south end. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 1, 2014 4:16AM

It was 45 degrees over the weekend, 5 degrees two days later and the forecast for New Year’s morning calls for 3 to 5 inches of fresh snow to be on the ground.

All told, it’s been business as usual for Waukegan Public Works employees as they prepare Municipal Beach for the 15th annual Polar Bear Plunge, scheduled to welcome the first hardy souls into Lake Michigan at 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

City spokesman David Motley said crews have been out at the beach at various points since Friday, Dec. 27, preparing one area or another for a crowd of both plungers and spectators that has numbered as high as 600 in previous editions.

“The conditions change every year at the lakefront, so to have a rigid plan doesn’t work,” Motley said on Monday, Dec. 30, adding that the cold start to this winter has produced a rim of ice not always seen on the shoreline.

“We knocked out some of the ice last week, and then the warm temperatures on Saturday melted the majority of it,” he said. “It was back (Monday) morning, so we will have a piece of equipment out there Wednesday morning to knock out what we can.”

Crews also spent the last few days plowing and salting the public parking lots around the beach, grading the sand and installing snow fences to mitigate not just windblown snow but also sand. Workers from Gurnee-based AAA Tent Masters took advantage of Saturday’s brief warmup to erect the twin warming tents that are strategically located a brief sprint from the open water.

As of Monday afternoon, 83 people had pre-registered for the plunge at the $10 individual rate and another 44 at the $50 pledge-drive rate. All proceeds benefit the the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County/ Waukegan, and Motley said organizers find that the number of walk-up registrants paying $15 per head swells the ranks every year.

“We’re expecting, as in years past, for people to make that snap decision the morning of (the event) and take the plunge,” said Motley, who noted that registration tents will open at 9 a.m., one hour before the first wave. The water will be open and guarded by a dive team from the Waukegan Fire Department until 11 a.m.

The National Weather Service issued a snow advisory for Lake County and northern Illinois that runs through 10 a.m. on Wednesday, with snowfall developing late Tuesday. Those concerns aside, Wednesday’s forecast calls for the air temperature to be around 19 degrees at mid-morning with winds out of the east/northeast at 13 mph. Lake Michigan water temperatures were reported Monday at around 33 degrees.

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