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Man with iPhone facing the surging surf on Milwaukee's lakefront

Photo essay: Wild winter surf on Lake Michigan

January 13, 2020  |  Topics: Places

By Eddee Daniel

While the dire predictions of a snowy apocalypse proved to be the usual weather forecasting hyperbole, the storm that swept in from the northeast over the weekend was very real on Lake Michigan. Already at a record high water mark, the lake was whipped by up to 50-mile-an-hour gusts into a frenzy that pummeled the shoreline. I went to see the action at McKinley Beach and discovered not only the supercharged surf hitting the breakwaters, but also a surprising number of other (crazy) people out enjoying (!!) themselves in one way and another, despite the driving sleet. Check it out:

wave breaking over breakwater
fat tire cyclist on Milwaukee lakefront in icy conditions
rugged surf at breakwater
jogger and surf at Bradford Beach
rough surf at McKinley Beach
two people with cell phone and surf
rogue wave
Ice-encrusted tree with berries in Veteran's Park
Ice-encrusted tree with berries in Veteran’s Park


The storm that unleashed the wilderness of a Great Lake upon the shores of Wisconsin was both dangerous and destructive. Some news reports called the damage to the Port of Milwaukee “catastrophic.” I revisited the lakefront a few days after I shot the photos above and got a few more:

damage to parking lot at North Point on Milwaukee lakefront
The North Point parking lot has been truncated.
tree toppled by winter storm on the lakefront
Trees are down; this one just north of Bradford Beach.
Storm damage at South Shore Marina in Milwaukee
The South Shore Marina was particularly hard hit.
While the waves have subsided, the lake level has not. Here at South Shore Park and Marina the water laps over walkways as if Lake Michigan were an infinity pool.

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks.