With the water sports season in full swing, a coalition of Indiana officials and community groups is hosting a Water Safety Day to raise awareness of safe boating and swimming practices. Hoosiers are invited to the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Michigan City on June 6 from 10 am to 2 pm.
A new environmental sensing buoy will be placed north of Chicago this summer, making it easier than ever for Illinois boaters and beach-goers to spend a fun, safe day on the water.
Like its counterpart in Michigan City, IN, the nearshore buoy will relay information on wave height and direction, wind speed, and air and surface water temperatures in near real time. A webcam will also make it possible to watch changing lake conditions first-hand.
If you’re a regular visitor to Great Lakes beaches, you likely noticed that this year’s swim season was chillier than normal. Cold enough, in fact, that many chose to skip swimming in favor of other beach activities. And according to officials at the National Weather Service, this may explain the unusually low number of current-related fatalities and rescues this year.
There were 6 fatalities and 12 rescues related to currents on the Great Lakes, which is below the 12-year average of 12 fatalities and 25 rescues per year.
As is typical, the majority of the 2014 incidents occurred along Lake Michigan. On average from 2002-2014, Lake Michigan had 25 incidents per year, while Lake Erie had 5 incidents per year, Lake Superior had 3 incidents and Huron and Ontario average 1 to 1.5 per year, respectively.
The data for 2014 has now been updated in the Great Lakes Current Incident Database, available at DangerousCurrents.org. The database was developed and is maintained by Michigan Sea Grant and National Weather Service (NWS). Megan Dodson, a NWS meteorologist, gathers the statistics for the database and provides yearly swim season assessments of conditions related to currents.
Dodson noted the cool weather influenced not just the below-average number of incidents, but where they happened too.
“A majority of the current-related incidents in 2014 occurred near river mouths, which is unusual when compared with past years,” she said. “The cooler air and water temperatures may have driven beachgoers to swim near river mouths and other outlets, where the water is much warmer. However, there are currents present that can be strong and vary depending on the flow of the outlet and the waves at the beach. While these currents are most dangerous during times of high waves, they can still be strong despite calmer lake conditions — as we saw during the 2014 swim season.” Read more
Swim season may be over, but it is never too early to start planning for next year. To stay safe in the water, be sure to:
- Steer clear of the pier — Nearly 60 percent of fatalities and rescues in the Great Lakes database occurred near breakwaters and piers. Structural currents are nearly always present near these barriers, even when waves are low. Breaking waves can also bounce off the structure, making swimming nearly impossible.
- Stay dry when waves are high — Nearly 85 percent of fatalities and rescues in the Great Lakes database happened when waves are 3-5 feet or greater. Unlike in the oceans, Great Lakes waves crash against the shoreline in rapid succession, making it difficult to swim. Additionally, strong rip currents are more likely when waves are above 3 feet. The combination of quickly approaching waves and strong currents create extremely dangerous conditions for swimmers.
- Don’t swim in the outlet — Water flowing from a river mouth or other outlet can push swimmers out into the lake. Nearly 40 percent of the 2014 incidents were outlet-current related.
For more information and safety tips, visit dangerouscurrents.org.
Each year, Great Lakes beach managers have to remove trucks full of slimy algae from the beachfront areas to keep them enjoyable for residents and visitors. But it can be a costly process and a regular need that could be met in a more environmentally friendly way.
From The Great Lakes Echo:
“Truckloads of the stuff are hauled to landfills every week or so, but beach managers want a greener and cheaper method of disposal.‘Algae removal is sort of a routine beach-grooming thing that we do, but because it’s wet and heavy, it can be expensive to dispose of,’ said Cathy Breitenbach, director of Green Initiatives for the Chicago Park District, which is responsible for 26 miles of lakefront in the city. She’s hoping to find an alternative that saves taxpayers money and is more sustainable than taking it to the dump like the district does now.Composting may seem like an obvious solution, but it’s not as simple as it sounds, say algae experts. Cladophora mats can harbor large concentrations of bacteria, including some potentially dangerous varieties.‘We have evidence to show that E. coli bacteria are found in very high densities in Cladophora mats,’ said Murulee Byappanahalli, a research microbiologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station in Porter, Ind.”
Illinois’ beach fronts got a bit of good news last week as a recent report pointed to improving water conditions and reduced contamination.
From The Chicago Tribune:
“The report compiles data on E. coli levels collected by local agencies and submitted to the U.S. EPA. E.coli, which can cause serious illnesses and infection, can be a predictor of other contaminants in the water, said Henry Henderson, Midwest director for NRDC.
Chicago’s Montrose Dog Beach and Rainbow Beach were the most contaminated beaches along Illinois’ Lake Michigan shoreline, according to the report. A variety of factors can change how a particular beach might test on any given day.
The study also found that Illinois’ 65 Lake Michigan beaches saw a combined 334 closings and swimming advisory days last year, a decrease from 483 combined days in 2011. The majority of those closings and advisories were caused by unknown contamination sources, according to the report.”
Read the complete article and more details about the report’s findings for several Great Lakes area beaches at the link above.
“…the National Weather Service’s Chicago office in Romeoville, Ill., and the Northern Indiana office teamed up with beach operators to enhance predicting and warning of rip currents along Lake Michigan’s beaches in an effort to reduce drowning deaths.In addition to modeling to predict rip currents, forecasters now have the help of lifeguards at beaches at Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Washington Park in Michigan City, Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, Mich., and Silver Beach County Park in St. Joseph, Mich. The lifeguards report water conditions twice daily and can see the rip currents in the water from their guard stands.”
“Chicago’s new elaborate system of buoys and statistical models will monitor 16 of the city’s 24 beaches, and Park District officials are seeking grant money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand the system to cover all beaches by next summer.The model will predict the levels of harmful bacteria at each beach using data on the location of sources of contamination, like colonies of sea gulls or sewer outlets; the motion of waves that can disturb bacteria growing in the sand; lake-current speeds; water temperature; and sunlight.”
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