The North American Extratropical Cyclone Turns the Great Lakes into a Serious Kayakers Playground [Wind and Surf]

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Storm waves from the October 26-27, 2010 "Land Hurricane." Light is 48 feet above the sea. Photo Credit: Bryan Hansel

The Great Lakes were hard this week by wind. By wind, I mean windy wind. So much wind that the NOAA actually named the storm The North American Extratropical Cyclone of October 26-27, 2010.

Lake Superior got hit the hardest. Friend of the site, Bryan Hansel from has been documenting the destruction and awesomeness in Grand Marais, MN so check his flickr page full coverage.

Bryan also tweeted yesterday the following:  “The Rock of Ages observation on Isle Royale, MI recorded a sustained 68 mph wind with gusts to 78 mph.”

With all that wind, how high were the waves you ask? Well, a buoy on Lake Superior was measuring waves at over 5.7 meters high. For you Americans, that’s 18.7 feet! Remember, that’s freshwater and not the ocean. Let it never be said that the Great Lakes are nothing like the ocean.

The North American Extratropical Cyclone. Image Credit: NOAA
So what happened? The short story is that a low pressure system formed but kept getting deeper and deeper and turned into a very rare overland cyclone. If you are interested in the science of the weather system, the NOAA website for Duluth, MN has a great summary of the whole thing. According to the web page they set a record pressure low of 955.2 millibars for Minnesota. My guess is that all the senior homes in the area were filled with people with painful knee joints for the past couple of days…

Lake Ontario was on the outer fringes of the weather system so we didn’t have the same high wind or waves compared to Lake Superior but they were big enough for sure! Wind waves larger then 6ft are just too scary for me.

Here in Toronto we couldn’t pass up on such a good opportunity to get out and play so yesterday I went to work early and also worked over lunch so I could duck out early before closing time.

My paddling partner Erik and I headed out from the Toronto Harbour to the Western Gap and fooled around there. The Western Gap is a great training ground in rough water as the water bounces around and quickly turns into clapotis waves. I have written about the Western Gap before as a great training ground before. With all the clapotis wave action in that area, it isn’t uncommon for the water to fall out from under you and drop 3-4 feet with no warning. It’s worse then a rollercoaster because if you don’t see it coming it can be a little unnerving.

Kayak Bow in the Western Gap. Photo Credit: David Johnston

Once we got bored of the wave elevator ride we headed off south around the point to the “clothing optional” beach for some fantastic surfing in the consistent 6 foot swells that were forming. After a couple of runs we had to head out pretty quick as our path home took us back through the Western Gap chaos and needed to get through before we lost all our light. Now that would have been scary!

Below is a small collection of photos that I took. These were taken in conditions weren’t as rough as the bigger stuff made me to scared to haul out the camera and get a steady shot. That being said, it reminds me of a fisherman’s tale, “I could only take one photo and decided to take a photo of the smallest fish I caught…”

For reference, the breakwall you can see in a couple of photos is six feet out of the water.

[flickr set=72157625256907178]

On a completely different yet similar note, my friend Mike sent me a link last night of crazy boogie boarders playing around in a clapotis wave refracting off the sea wall.

This just in: My friend Megan from Naturally Superior Adventures on Lake Superior just sent me this report of the gang out surfing. Sounds mental. If you hurry today you might still catch some of the action on their live webcam. Megan also posted a great collection of storm photos on the NSA blog. The lightstand in the photo below is 20 feet high.

The gang came back at lunch and said that it was a bit intense.  One report was that Ray was completely vertical and yet his whole hull was still on the wave.  Another was that Ray did a surf ender where his bow just stayed under the water while he got surfed in.  He said he didn't feel too heroic afterwards just trying to breathe.

They think the river mouth might be a bit too big of this afternoon but were just going to check it out.  They might go back to Sandy or try Celery Beach.  I might go out and take some pics later but wish that the sun would at least try to show up.  Super grey here.


NSA Surf. Photo Credit: Megan Gamble

Lighthouse Photo Credit (Top): Bryan Hansel
Lightstand Photo Credit (Bottom): Megan Gamble

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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