Chief: Powerful Lake Michigan waves ‘will kill you’

A South Haven Area Emergency Services employee hoists the red flag near Lake Michigan. (SHAES)

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The red flags were flying over every beach along Lake Michigan Friday, as changing weather churned up dangerous waves.

“I’ve never seen the waves going over both pier heads like this,” said Louie Puckett, who has lived in the South Haven area most of his life. “You know I’ve seen it bad, but not this high of waves.”

“Today’s a day that you really need to stay out of the water,” said South Haven Area Emergency Services Chief Roland Wise. “Lake Michigan, as you can see, is very angry today. It’s very unforgiving.”

Those angry and unforgiving waters could easily turn deadly.

>>Inside Lake Michigan beach and boating conditions | Bill’s blog on waves

“For someone to think that they can swim against this or rescue themselves if they get into trouble without a proper flotation device on, is just asking for a death sentence today,” he explained.

Wise says even wading into the lake when it’s like this can cause trouble. Just one inch of moving water can knock you off your feet.

But it’s the people who walk the piers who can get into the most trouble. The National Weather Services says waves will climb to 8 to 12 feet through Friday evening, splashing over the top of piers.

“Those waves crashing across will wash you off the pier into a big blender of water and you will die,” said Wise.

Despite the warnings, 24 Hour News 8 caught people testing their luck on the pier Friday.

“If you get into trouble, there’s no such thing as a timeout,” Wise said. “It will kill you.”

The NWS is warning that conditions on Lake Michigan will be life-threatening through Friday evening.

The agency says the strong waves could also cause more long-term damage: coastal erosion.