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Lake Michigan Surf Forecast


Updated by Dr. Fresh on Thursday July 19, 2018

5-day Lake Michigan wave forecast model


SURF QUALITY KEY (for daily summary below, not map above)

BLUE – Flat or Poor Surf

PURPLE – Mediocre Surf

ORANGE – Fun Surf 

GREEN - Epic Surf

RED - Victory at Sea


Lake Michigan Surf Forecast for Friday - Sunday: 

Summary: An area of low pressure will approach the Great Lakes and slide across Lake Michigan this weekend. There is still some uncertainty with the exact track of the low, but someone is likely going to get it good this weekend! This setup more resembles November than July! As the low approaches tonight, winds will pick up dramatically out of the SE 15 to 25 knots with higher gusts. Waves of 4 to 6 feet will build, mainly for the western side of the lake. As the low moves to the lower Michigan side on Saturday, N winds will pick up to 15 to 20 knots with higher gusts over much of the lake with the Michigan side remaining in lighter, ENE flow. It's entirely possible that late Saturday we see building swell for Michigan with offshore winds. Winds turn N across the eastern portion of the lake Saturday night and continue through Sunday as the winds back to the NE. Water temps are in the 60s in the nearshore waters across much of the lake. The coldest, upwelled waters reside on the southeast side. The warmest part of the lake is the southwest side with nearshore waters temps in the low 70s.

FRIDAY: SE winds 15 to 25 knots with higher gusts, decreasing slightly through the day. Waves will build 4 to 6 feet with a few higher sets, mainly for the western side of the lake, especially Wisconsin. Biggest waves will be Friday morning through early afternoon before fading. Winds turn NE 10 to 20 knots over the north end of the lake late Friday afternoon. Winds turn S then SW 10 to 20 knots over the very southern end of the lake Friday evening. Winds turn N then NE 10 to 20 knots over the entire lake very late Friday night into Saturday morning.

SATURDAY: NNE winds 10 to 20 knots with higher gusts continue much of Saturday, especially over the western side of the lake. Waves will build 4 to 6 feet with a few higher sets, biggest for the southern half of the lake. Cleaner waves are expected to fill into the Michigan side late Saturday afternoon and evening where winds will be lighter and more offshore.

SUNDAY: NE winds 10 to 20 knots early and fading through the day. Lighter on the Michigan side which should keep waves fairly clean. Waves will be 3 to 5 feet early and fading through the day.




While predicting waves on most ocean coasts has become a science of its own, with countless surf reports, surf-specific web cams, and detailed forecasts, surf forecasting in the Great Lakes is in its relative infancy. To put it bluntly; you have to work at it. Fortunately, there are now numerous resources available, mostly via the World Wide Web. Read on for a look into surf forecasting on the Great Lakes.

Finding waves is easy. Finding good waves is the challenge.


What makes waves? It's simple: wind. We need wind to make waves, but we also need a good stretch of water for the wind to blow over to produce those waves. That brings us to something called fetch - the length of water the wind is blowing over. Look at any beach on a map and find the longest amount of fetch connected to the beach, and that will tell you what wind direction you need to make waves at that beach. And, keep in mind that a stated wind direction means the wind is coming from that direction (a north wind blows from the North to the South).

Some beaches get waves from many directions, but the above example would theoretically build the biggest waves. The size of the waves depends on factors such as wind speed, wind direction, wind duration, the amount of fetch, and the bottom contours over which the waves are breaking; but the fetch is probably the most important factor. An example? If you were in New Buffalo, on southern Lake Michigan, a west wind (blowing from Chicago to New Buffalo) only has about 50 miles of fetch, but a north wind (blowing from the Upper Peninsula) has about 300 miles of fetch - which wind direction do you think produces bigger waves in New Buffalo?


Assembled here are some of the most functional and easy-to-use online tools for finding waves in the Great Lakes. Included are wind maps, wave models, and other relevant links that can be found in any serious lake surfer's online arsenal. Read the description for each, then dive in and start to get to know them. Your reward? Good, uncrowded waves that even an ocean surfer would be stoked to find.










Our forecasting expert, Dr. Fresh, is a Midwest transplant from the East Coast. Like many of you, he makes the best of his situation and tries to think he can actually surf a lake. When not attempting this, Dr. Fresh can be found looking at weather maps trying to nail down our next “swell.” He has a degree in atmospheric science and is a meteorologist by profession, so we'll just assume he knows what he's doing.