Storm surge closes NWI beachfronts, Tuesday could bring flooding
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3154 October 29, 2012 4:22PM
Harold Blum, of Chicago, takes a break from photographing kite boarders long enough to watch a wave crash onto a walkway at Walhalla County Park in Whiting Monday Oct. 29, 2012. High winds and big waves attracted a number of kite boarders from across the region. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 1, 2012 6:25AM
Local officials are braced for collateral damage Tuesday from Hurricane Sandy along Northwest Indiana’s Lake Michigan lakefront.
The National Park Service is closing some access points to Lake Michigan in anticipation of high waves and possible flooding. Closed will be the Porter Beach (Wabash Avenue) parking lots and the Mount Baldy and Central Avenue access points to Lake Michigan in Michigan City.
The National Park Service’s Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site will remain open, but the beach, breakwater and riverwalk will be closed.
The National Weather Service has predicted strong northerly winds of 50 to 60 mph on Lake Michigan for a prolonged period from late Monday through Tuesday evening. Waves along the southern shore of the lake are expected to build to heights of 20 to 25 feet creating dangerous conditions and flooding along the shoreline.
Visitors are urged to use caution on park trails and at other shoreline locations due to high winds and possible falling trees and branches.
A spokeswoman for the city of Gary encouraged residents to exercise caution and to steer clear of any of the city’s beach areas. Local Gary businesses on the lake including Majestic Star Casino and U.S. Steel have also been notified of possible dangers on Tuesday.
A release from Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said the Lake County Police Department Marine Unit will be staffed 24 hours per day due to the high winds and waves on Lake Michigan. Officers will remain there to ensure no boats are on the lake.
Portage Mayor James Snyder said personnel were being readied to respond to lake emergencies and he planned to meet with Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore staff as a precaution.
“The lake is not like the ocean,” Snyder said. “It’s not as buoyant as salt water.
“We’d like people to stay away from the lake,” Snyder said in response to a question about possible surfers. “People don’t realize how dangerous it is. We’ve heard there could be 20-foot waves.”
On Monday, curious visitors arrived at a steady pace to view Lake Michigan’s roiling waters at Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Park.
No sunscreen needed Monday, but an anchor wouldn’t hurt.
Cars pulled into the beach parking lot and intrepid wave peekers ventured out with hoods up, bracing for the wind that sent lake waters cascading over the rocky breakwall.
After a beach walk, Valparaiso resident Jerry Mangel settled inside the park pavilion to view the lake through binoculars.
“I just wanted to see what was going on,” said Mangel.
“Of course, I’ve seen this lake since I was a kid. It has no mercy. It doesn’t care,” he said of the lake’s fury.
Virginia Lozano, of Portage, took advantage of her grandchildren’s day off school to bring them to the lakeshore park.
“It’s very windy and the waves are big. I wanted my grandchildren to see it,” she said as Mia Lopez, 9, Lisa Lopez, 8, and Isaiah Delgado, 6, ran behind the pavilion. “We usually come here anyway. It’s just so beautiful.”
Beth and Jim Thompson, of Valparaiso, stood inside the pavilion to assess the lake. “I think they’re going to get taller,” Jim Thompson said of the waves. “They’re talking about 22 feet in Chicago.”
The faraway connection wasn’t lost on Beth Thompson.
“It’s amazing it affects us out here,” she said of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. “The waves are tremendous.”