A project involving Purdue University led to the launch of a Lake Michigan nearshore buoy that will provide boaters and beachgoers with more real-time data on lake conditions.
The environmental-sensing buoy, about four miles off the coast of Wilmette, Illinois, will relay information on wind speed, air and water temperature, wave height and direction, and other environmental characteristics from May to October each year.
The TIDAS 900 Wilmette buoy, launched in August, is a collaboration between Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, LimnoTech and Purdue. It was made possible with grant money awarded to Tomas Höök, an associate professor in Purdue's Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and Sea Grant's associate director of research.
The buoy is meant to help advance understanding of nearshore waters, alert the public to hazardous conditions in real time and improve weather forecasts. It is equipped with a webcam that enables people to see the conditions on the lake.
"This is a tremendous leap forward," said Ed Fenelon, a National Weather Service meteorologist with the Chicago office. Before this buoy, data near Chicago were limited to beach areas, very close to shore.
Data from a buoy launched in 2012 off the coast of Michigan City, Indiana, has led to adjustments in wave forecast models and boosted understanding of fisheries and nearshore dynamics.
Data from the Wilmette buoy will also be used to improve predictions of hazardous weather conditions and issue swim and small-water craft advisories.
"To accurately forecast the future, you have to have a detailed measurement of current conditions," Fenelon said. "This buoy will give us just that."
Current lake conditions will be updated every 10 minutes and be available at Sea Grant's Wilmette Buoy page. Photos and video footage is available at the LimnoTech Webcam Gallery. The mobile-friendly sites highlight conditions of particular interest to recreational users, such as wave height, wind speed and surface water temperature.
Along with graphs showing trends over recent periods, the information will tell boaters and kayakers when it's safe to be on the water and help anglers target specific species.
The Wilmette buoy was funded through the Great Lakes Observing System, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's greater Integrated Oceanic Observing System network.
Information collected from the buoys is also fed into NOAA's National Data Buoy Center operated by NOAA and the more localized Great Lakes Buoys. Forecasters, researchers and others can download raw historical data for Michigan City buoy ID 45170 or Wilmette buoy ID 45174 from any of these websites.