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Gale warning draws dozens to Waukegan lakefront

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Updated: December 1, 2012 4:43PM



WAUKEGAN — It wasn’t nearly the 13-foot storm surge that swamped Manhattan’s Battery Park on Monday night, but the remnants of Hurricane Sandy gave Midwesterners just a taste of a mid-Atlantic storm Tuesday afternoon along Municipal Beach.

Visitors arrived by the dozen to watch unrelenting strings of whitecaps churn through the murky brown water, with a steady north wind both sending waves into the shoreline and creating crisscross patterns that bounced on and off the breakwaters.

“Once in a lifetime, huh?” said Jeff Meincke of Grayslake, walking between the north and south beaches with his wife, Yolanda, and watching waves swamp the north breakwater.

“This is wonderful. This is awesome,” said Diana Duff, standing on a small sandbar and taking both photos and video. “How can you not feel the energy and the power of this? This is too cool. ... This is beautiful.”

Duff, who recently moved to Waukegan from Madison, Wis., added that her amateur photography would normally take her to the shores of Lake Mendota “and a lot of trees, because that’s all we have up there, but it’s nothing like this. I feel for the people on the East Coast when we’re even getting this all the way over here.”

According to the National Weather Service, waves arriving in Waukegan were of the 3- to 5-foot variety, fueled by a sustained 15-20 mph north wind that gusted near 40 mph between sunrise and noon. A peak gust of 42 mph was recorded at Waukegan Harbor at 9:42 a.m.

Conditions early Tuesday were such that the city briefly closed the beach, with officials aware that kite-surfers had been on the water the previous day.

“The gate to the entry point of the beach was closed for a while,” said city spokesman David Motley as he walked along the north beach around 1 p.m., when winds scaled back about 10 mph and traffic was again allowed in. “We want to limit access to the piers for the general public because it’s unsafe, and we’d like to make sure that nobody comes out for any water activities.

“There were people out here kite-surfing (on Monday) and there were a couple of guys out here this morning when I got here at 8 a.m. that had intentions of surfing,” added Motley, noting that the surfers were discouraged by rip currents that headed south toward rocks and breakwaters.

The elements didn’t discourage Keith Harris of Aurora from at least a few attempts to get his kite into the air and get himself up on a waveboard around 2 p.m. off the north beach.

“If you get in a tricky situation, like if you lose your board, you can always use the kite to get you back,” he said, untangling snarls in his lines caused by an earlier attempt foiled by swirling winds. “I was out at Hammond (Ind.) yesterday, and it was a little less gusty, but the waves were exactly the same.”

Harris sent his kite airborne, waded out to about the depth of his knees and got up on his board. After navigating a few of the incoming waves, he sailed along for about 50 yards before being pulled down into the water. He then, as promised, used the kite to tow himself back to shore.

“It was actually good, but before you get out there, you hit one or two waves and you think, ‘Yeah, I’m good,’ and the third one just swallows you up,” he said, a little out of breath but otherwise all smiles. “I’ve never (seen) anything this irregular with the chop. Usually, you’ll have two bad waves and you get over it and out on the lake.

“But this is really bad chop,” he said. “Got eaten alive.”

Harris and everyone else watching Tuesday’s nature show from the safety of the shoreline were at least fortunate to not be on the open lake, where the National Weather Service issued a gale warning featuring winds between 51 mph to 40 mph and waves of 14 to 19 feet and 27-foot peaks feet within five nautical miles of the shore on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, open lake winds are expected to decrease from 40 mph to 35 mph, with waves five miles out diminishing from 10 to 14 feet to around 7 to 10 feet later in the day. The drawdown is forecasted to continue each day as the week goes along.



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