ASK TOM WHY: What if the recent high waves on Lake Michigan occurred when water levels were at their highest?

Dear Tom,

What if the recent high waves on Lake Michigan occurred when water levels were at their highest?

— Aaron Polchow

Dear Aaron,

With Lake Michigan’s water levels near an all-time low, the recent episode of 20-foot-plus waves provided little more than a spectacular show along with some beach erosion and minor shoreline flooding. It was quite a different story Feb. 8, 1987, when a severe storm hit during a period of record high lake levels. Lakeshore flooding and erosion, the most destructive in Chicago’s history, caused $7 million in damages. North winds 50 to 70 mph produced 18- to 20-foot waves. Water surged across Lake Shore Drive as waves battered and flooded high-rise buildings. Sheridan Road became a veritable river; the flowing water moving concrete highway dividers as if they were bowling pins.

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