The Lake Effect
You’ve heard the phrase “Lake Effect”….so what does it mean? Generally, the weather around the Chicago area beaches is affected by whatýs commonly called the ýlake effectý. Lake Michigan is one of the largest lakes in the world. It contains a huge mass of water that affects the incoming weather around it. In the summer, the lake water is typically cooler than land at mid-day, and the opposite is true in the winter. This causes pressure changes which affect the temperature of the air and the direction and strength of the wind. It could be blowing 15 mph in the city of Chicago, but Montrose beach will be dead calm, or the opposite could be true, depending on the conditions.
This is why its important to understand the weather here, and learn the good geographical spots before you drive all over trying to find a beach with wind. A firm technical grasp of the forces that work for, or against, kitesurfing, will help you and your pals find wind on those summer days.
Lake Michigan runs North-South, pretty much. As jet stream weather moves in and the sun heats up the surrounding land mass, interesting changes can occur. Usually, as the lake cools the air, it falls, creating denser air over the center of the lake. This results in a high pressure center that pushes air outwards in 360 degrees. Maybe youýve noticed boats on the lake leaning over with sails full out on the water, and there barely being any wind on the beach. This is a result of the pressure system the lake tends to generate in the summer. There are wind ýlinesý that form, where the wind increases out off the shore over the water. If the pressure system over the lake is working against the current wind direction over land, the winds will cancel each other out at the shoreline. This will provide horrible kitesurfing and windsurfing conditions for you and your pals. Also, the current of the lake water also affects the ýthermal windsý that are generated. It is best to familiarize yourself with the wind patterns of each day, to easily be able to determine in the future which beaches work best under what conditions. Optimally, you want all three working for you, not against you.
For example, if the wind is blowing from the South, and the warmer water is sitting on the Eastern side of the lake, Michigan City and St. Joeseph may not offer good riding conditions due to the wind cancellation and the warm water being nearer the temperature of the land, generating a lesser-strength thermal wind. It may be better to head over to Waukegan, or Illinois State Beach on these conditions, where the wind will be moving more side-shore, and the thermal off the colder lake water will pull the wind toward shore, providing for nice, constant wind all day.
By keeping a close watch on conditions whenever you surf, youýll quickly get the hang of where to go each day thereýs wind for the best conditions. At chicagokitesurfing.com, we have directions to beaches you should keep in mind when Kitesurfing in the Chicago area.