Lake Michigan is HUGE. And yet, we in Southwest Michigan, on occasion, can see the Chicago skyline from our shores. Why?

When I first moved to Michigan, I thought that this was a rare occurrence. But, lately, I've been seeing more and more posts in Facebook groups like What's Happening in Southwest Michigan that show this spectacle. So, what causes this?

The Cause

Back in 2016, Tom Coomes of Abc57 wrote an article about this very thing. In his article, he shared a picture of the Chicago skyline that can clearly be seen from Grand Mere State Park in Stevensville, MI.

While Coomes, unfortunately, had to debunk the claim that he was covering up proof that the earth is flat, he did go on to explain that the Chicago skyline is more of a mirage than a direct visual, if that makes sense.

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In his article, he quoted Dr. Mark Rennie, an associate professor in areo-optics at the University of Notre Dame, who said,

A mirage is just a case of atmospheric refraction, it’s caused by the fact you have temperature variations in the atmosphere and these cause density variations. What’s happening is the light from Chicago is being bent by the cold air above lake Michigan, slightly downward towards the observer here. That’s helping light rays get around the curvature of the earth, so that Chicago can be seen almost all the way down to ground level.

You can learn more below. There's even a cool demonstration of how this works towards the end of the video:

The mirages, though, aren't always as clear as the above-captured photo. They sometimes might look like this:

Either way, catching this mirage has to be a thrilling experience.

So, the next time you're visiting the shores of Lake Michigan in the SW Michigan area, perhaps at Grand Mere State Park or Warren Dunes State Park, keep a sharp eye out. You never know when the conditions will allow you to spot the Chicago skyline.

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