Surf forecasting on the Great Lakes is challenging, and has many important parts of the equation, but with a little dedication & determination, your hard work is bound to pay off. Check out our trusted tools below. Key things we’re looking for:
  1. A strong, sustained wind over a long duration— the stronger the wind, the bigger the wave.
  2. Fetch! This is the distance wind blows & waves travel across the lake — the greater the fetch, the bigger the wave.
  3. Cold, dense air vs. warmer water – often this comes as low pressure systems.
  4. The bottom contours of the lake over which the waves are breaking — waves break in shallow water, but grow in size over deep water. 

Lake Michigan Forecast:


Forecasting Tools:

Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System Shows ice cover, air & water temperature, cloud cover, wind & waves throughout the Great Lakes. Great Lakes Waves A color coded, 5-day wave map for all of the Great Lakes.  iWindsurf Simple, trusted wind forecasting source (remember, a north wind comes from the north and blows south, and visa versa). There is also an App available for iPhone users. iWindsurf provides meteograms to show wind strength, direction and duration. What you’d be looking for here is a strong wind (at least 10-15mph) from the same direction for a sustained period of time (6-12 hours or more). In the spring and summer time, when the air is much warmer than the water, we may need stronger winds, for a longer duration to provide waves, whereas in the fall and winter time the denser cold air allows waves to form much easier with shorter wind periods or relatively lighter winds.  NOAA Surf Forecast NOAA Graphical Forecast

Direct information from Lake Michigan Buoys:

Western Great Lakes Recent Marine Data This will give you real-time data to show you wave heights, water temperature, and wind speed & direction in the open water throughout the Western Great Lakes. Open Water Forecast for Lake Michigan with Synonpsis  

Other Helpful Tools:

Lake Michigan Surface Water Temperature The warmer the water temperature, and colder the air temperature, the higher possibility for a wave. Great Lakes Ice Coverage  Be weary of ice in the lineup in the midst of the winter. Local Weather Station You can also look for a drop in pressure or low pressure systems moving across the lake to help predict quality of waves. 
Now, look at a map of the lakeshore near you. Can you pin point spots that might hold a cleaner wave and provide protection for waves to wrap in around? What beaches around you might receive the longest amount of fetch connected to the beach, and what wind direction might work at that particular beach?

We urge you to experiment with your newly acquired knowledge! The Great Lakes are beautifully unpredictable— enjoy the search! 

Live Webcam of Empire Beach: