A history of tsunami-like waves on the Great Lakes

by Sara E. Pratt
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Severe and deadly seiche events are rare on the Great Lakes. In the last century, about 10 major waves have hit the shores of the Great Lakes, but smaller anomalous waves occur much more frequently. Many of the deadliest have occurred on Lake Michigan, but Lakes Superior, Huron and Erie have also experienced them. In addition to the June 26, 1954, event, some others were: 

  • On the Fourth of July 1929, after an early morning storm had passed, more than 45,000 people gathered in Grand Haven State Park on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to celebrate Independence Day. Later in the day, a 6-meter wave surged over the Grand Haven pier, sweeping many people into the lake. Strong rip currents near the shore carried away several more. Ten were killed.

  • On July 13, 1938, again on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and again on an otherwise calm day, a 3-meter wave struck Holland State Park in Holland, Mich., drowning five swimmers.

  • On July 13, 1995, a passing derecho triggered large waves on Lakes Superior, Huron and Erie but caused no deaths.

  • On May 31, 1998, a derecho hit the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, sinking the tugboat Stephen M. Asher. The crew was rescued and survived. Parts of Western Michigan were declared a federal disaster area.

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