Meet two cool buoys on the Great Lakes

Sep 14, 2016
Originally published on October 12, 2016 4:01 pm

If you're a Great Lakes geek, you've got to love @twoyellowbuoys on Twitter.  The cheeky account is loaded with data and photos courtesy of a pair of buoys stationed on Lake Michigan by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. We wanted to know more about the buoys -- Michigan City and Wilmette -- so we asked them for an interview. They managed to squeeze it in between taking measurements and enjoying the sunsets.

How has the summer been? Warm enough for you?

Michigan City: Being out in Lake Michigan is awesome no matter what happens.

Wilmette: But it has been warm. I can’t say “warmer than usual” because this is my first full season and I’m not sure what is “usual” in my neck of the woods.

Michigan City: I’ve been out from 2013-2016, and 2016 has been generally warmer than other years.

Any other notable events this year?

Wilmette: August went out like a lion on southern Lake Michigan. My webcam captured my crazy ride on the 31st. Glad I don’t eat lunch!

Michigan City: Remember the America’s Cup race around Chicago?

Wilmette: Yeah. They had one day of really light winds, and then this happened. Bonkers.

Who uses all your information?

Michigan City: We’ve heard from charter fishermen, sailors, paddlers, National Weather Service forecasters, physical modelers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, high school teachers…everybody loves buoy data. And, frankly, we love them!

What are some records in the Yellow Buoys Hall of Fame?

Michigan City: I have the highest wave at 16 feet on Jul 24, 2013, the warmest and coolest surface water temperatures of 82°F on Jul 18, 2013, 42°F on Apr 20, 2015, and we share the strongest wind gust of 52 mph at Michigan City on June 24 and 30, 2013, and in Wilmette on Aug 19, 2015.

Wilmette: And while it may seem that Michigan City has ALL the records, it also has more data to pull from.

You look pretty sturdy. Ever had an accident with a passing boat?

Michigan City: Thankfully no. We’re in the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Light List, so boaters should know we’re here.

Wilmette: And we’re yellow. I mean, bright, bright yellow. Once you get close to us we’re hard to miss.

Any other dangers out there?

Michigan City: The biggest danger other than boat traffic is probably big waves. Our handlers actually use GPS signals to make sure we’re still tethered to our anchors after big storms.

Wilmette: And you know, quagga mussels attach to us like crazy. But they’re filtering stuff out of the water column and don’t really hurt us.

Michigan City: Our handlers have trouble pulling them all off at the end of the year, though.

Wilmette: Oh yes. Much cursing. But the Remove, Drain, Dry process is important!!

Does your grandpa ever tell you stories about what the lakes were like years ago?

Michigan City: The National Data Buoy Center buoys that have been deployed since the early 1980s sometimes tell us stories. Thanks to them, humans can make graphs like this

Wilmette: But younger nearshore buoys like us really help researchers understand the lake. Not to mention we are super-useful for boaters.

Michigan City: We’re also humble.

Wilmette: Yes, always humble.

Why do you hang out near Michigan City and Wilmette?

Michigan City: We have buddies all around Lake Michigan who record similar data. Lake Michigan has a lot of nearshore buoys like us. We were set out to fill important data gaps. For example, I was the first real-time buoy in the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan.

Wilmette: And I’m currently the only real-time buoy in the Chicago area deeper than five feet of water and/or past breakwalls. The other Chicago-area real-time sensors are close to beaches.

Michigan City: Incidentally, beach managers love our data, too!

How do you find the time to tweet – or do your minions handle that?

Michigan City: We collect the awesome data, and a bunch of really geeky but great people who work for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant tweet on our behalf.

Where do you spend the winter?

Michigan City: In a nice, warm building either at Purdue University or LimnoTech, so far.

Wilmette: Winter is when we get cleaned and upgraded if we’re getting upgraded!

Will you be tricked out with any new gear for 2017?

Michigan City: No plans currently, but if anybody wants to help me get a webcam …

Wilmette: Or help me get a temperature chain! Or help either of us get other sensors, talk with our handlers! We love getting tricked out with new gear.

Thanks to Illinois-Indiana assistant research coordinator Carolyn Foley for her help in the interview.

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