50 mph winds and 22-foot waves expected along Chicago lakefront

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - High winds are expected to generate huge waves on Lake Michigan starting Wednesday night, prompting warnings for people to stay away from the lakefront.

Waves as high as 15 to 22 feet, occasionally reaching higher, are expected late Wednesday, the National Weather Service is warning. Those waves will continue through Thursday evening and aren’t expected to fully ebb until Friday, weather service meteorologist Ricky Castro said.

Winds are expected to reach 50 mph and higher at certain times overnight, causing flooding along the Chicago lakefront and parts of northeast Illinois and far northwest Indiana, according to a lakeshore flood warning issued by the weather service.

As of 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, 75 flights were canceled at O’Hare International Airport and 12 flights had been cancelled at Midway International Airport, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Delays at both airports averaged about 25 minutes.

Despite the weather warning, surfer Rex Flodstrom and fellow surfers are ready to hit the waves Thursday morning.

“We’re gonna go look for them,” Flodstrom, 45, said, referring to six- to eight-foot-tall waves ideal for surfing.

Flodstrom, an artist who has been surfing for more than two decades, made national headlines in January 2012 after he was arrested for surfing off Oak Street Beach, where surfing is banned. Flodstrom agreed to perform 20 hours of community service in exchange for the charges being dropped.

Surfing was once illegal off all Chicago beaches. It is now permitted year-round at the Montrose and 57th Street beaches, and between Labor Day and Memorial Day at Osterman and Rainbow beaches as well, according to the Chicago Park District’s website, which has additional rules for kiteboarding and windsurfing.

Flodstrom is unsure exactly where he and his friends will be surfing, but he predicts somewhere along the South Shore to be an ideal spot. People also surf in northwest Indiana.

“Everybody have fun and be safe out there,” Flodstrom said.

On Wednesday, the Weather Service also issued a hazardous-weather outlook for northeast and north-central Illinois, predicting winds of 40 to 50 mph near the lakefront Wednesday night. Some gusts of wind are expected to reach 60 miles per hour.

Castro strongly encouraged pedestrians and bikers to keep away from the lakefront. He predicted the high waves are likely to flood sections of the lakefront bike path and could disrupt traffic on Lake Shore Drive.