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Beware gales of November on Big Lake

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Taking a walk on a pier or breakwater in Lake Michigan is especially dangerous this time of year, writes Commercial Record correspondent Jim Hayden on his Bicycle Base Fennville blog, even as water levels continue their seasonal decline.

“Most accidents and incidents near harbor structures occur during the turbulent weather season from late August through December,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrote in a recent press release.

“The lakeshore attracts local residents and visitors alike. Visitors may not be aware of the powerful impacts that high winds and storms can bring to the shoreline and harbor structures.”

Even low waves can knock a person off his or her feet, causing injury, notes Hayden. Falling into the cold water can lead to death.

Lake Michigan’s average temperature is about 50 degrees now.

“Becoming suddenly immersed in cold water (60°F degrees and colder) can cause cold water shock during the first minute of exposure,” according to the Corps. That shock causes gasping and difficulty breathing and muscle failure that can lead to drowning.

“The beauty and majesty of the waves crashing and spraying against the breakwaters, piers and jetties mask the hazards. Harbor structures pose various dangers: slick surfaces, jagged and sharp edges, structural currents, as well as large rocks hidden beneath the water’s surface,” the Corps wrote.

The piers at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck can be difficult to access as waves rise to reach the bluffs and dunes between Oval Beach and the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.

For those who want to make the hike through the trails in the dunes, the drive to get there will be smoother, writes Hayden. The reconstruction of Perryman Street, the road to Oval Beach, was completed last month. New pavement, striping and guardrails are in place.

Lake Levels

October’s water level for Lakes Michigan-Huron was 580.38 feet above sea level, about 1.68 inches below the September level, according to the Corps, which oversees Great Lakes levels.

The agency considers Michigan and Huron as one because they are linked by the Straits of Mackinac.

Lake Michigan is 1.08 inches above last year’s average and 18.12 inches above the long-term average calculated since 1918.

October precipitation was more than 3 inches above average at the West Michigan Regional Airport in Holland. The airport in northwest Allegan County recorded 6.98 inches of rain for the month. The average is 3.59 inches, according to records, wrote Hayden.

In Fennville, 5.16 inches of rain was recorded at Michigan State University Trevor Nichols Research Complex just west of Fennville for October. Last year, October had 10.25 inches of rain. The average rainfall of October from 2013-2018 is 5.05 inches.

For the year, the airport has recorded 34.3 inches of rain as of the end of October, above the 30.7-inch average.

Water levels are expected to decline through the winter before increasing again in the spring. Levels are projected to remain above average but below record highs set in the late 1980s, Hayden said.

(Photo by Tim Largent)