Lake Mendota Storm Warning Light

Have you ever wondered what this tall pole with a light on top is doing out at the tip of Picnic Point?

Photo by Bryn Scriver.

Here’s how Robert Gerber of the UW Lifesaving Station describes its function:

This light–a flashing red beacon–is one of four similar ones along the UW shoreline that are used in conjunction with the steam whistle atop Helen C. White Library to warn boaters of impending thunderstorms that might endanger university boaters and others who may be recreating on the waters of Lake Mendota. The other lights are located at the Lot 60 boat launch, Memorial Union, and the UW Lifesaving Station at 144 East Gilman Street.

Activation of this light and whistle storm warning system is controlled by the Lifesaving Station, but this only happens when the Station is open for service. There is a similar light located at the Tenney Park Lock that is activated by the lock tender at the request of Lifesaving Station staff. Historically, there was an additional warning light on Governor’s Island, but it disappeared long ago when a watch tower facility was removed from that location.

More than a few boaters owe their well-being, and maybe even their lives, to warnings they’ve received from this flashing red light.