Schmich: Sounding the alarm on renegade waves

He suspected that the description "rogue waves" was intended to push bikers, joggers and curiosity seekers off the shoreline and away from some dangerous big waves, though not necessarily rogue ones.

The rogue wave, he explained, isn't just a giant wave. It's a wave that is far bigger than all the waves around it.

Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians, if I understood correctly.

"The rogue wave is a freak," he said. "It's often the marriage, the intersection, of two waves that slam into each other. Rogue waves also form where you've got a wave intersecting a current flowing opposite it."

Such a wave, he went on, can happen in oceans or in lakes. There's a theory that a rogue wave caused the legendary 1975 sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior.

Rogue or not, the waves were definitely building in Lake Michigan on Tuesday, and Skilling noted that the winds — which result in waves — were also building, in a way unusual for July.

Dramatic weather, he explained, is often caused by the clash of cold Arctic air and the warmer air in the lower 48. But in summer, when Arctic regions warm up, such clashes of air are rare.

"This is not the time of year when you get highly organized winds," he said.

(I had a vision of highly organized winds arranging their spice drawers alphabetically. Or color-coding their perfectly folded underwear. But back to rogue waves.)

"It is interesting that we, even for a brief period, have winds that are as well-organized as they will be later today and into tonight," he said.

So, who knew? A rogue wave might turn up.

"If you see one," he said, "let me know!"

In the late afternoon, I drove north to the Foster Avenue beach, still chasing rogue waves. The waves were bigger there, verging on wild, though none of them was freakishly tall and alone.

Daredevils continued to bike and jog at the water's edge, but many people just stood and watched, struck still by the force and the mystery of the wind on the water.

Whatever you call it.

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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