November 11th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
July 15th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
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.
From Michigan Sea Grant:
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.
July 3rd, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
Boaters, anglers, and swimmers, you many want to think twice before heading out into Lake Michigan today. Forecasters are predicting waves swells as high as 7 ft, creating dangerous conditions for any one in water.
The high waves are the result of an unusual weather pattern expected to continue into tomorrow. A small piece of the polar vortex has dropped down to the southern Great Lakes, bringing fall-like weather to parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.
The cool air may be a welcomed break from July heat, but the shifting weather is not without its downsides. Right now, parts of the lake are actually warmer than the air above it, creating the perfect conditions for waterspouts. The wave swells created by gusty winds also bring a higher chance of rip currents, especially along Michigan’s western shore.
Whether you are planning a trip to the lake or not, you can track wave height and other lake conditions in southern Lake Michigan as the strange weather continues with the IISG real-time buoy.
*The week’s strange weather brings a chance of waterspouts like this one captured near Winthrop Harbor in 2013. Photo by Phil Mathis.
June 16th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
It’s Fourth of July! Let’s head for the beach! You’ve packed up towels and snacks and sunscreen for a day in the sun and surf. Now give some thought to water safety too.
Since 2010, 357 people have drowned in the Great Lakes, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP). To date, GLSRP has tracked 27 deaths this year, which is up from this time last year. This may be due to the water’s cold temperatures after a tough winter. Colder water uses up your energy faster than warmer water.
GLSRP’s Dave Benjamin and Bob Pratt teach water safety classes on beaches, in schools, and at other venues. On June 30, they brought their message to Ogden Dunes in Indiana, advocating for safer swimmers, safer waters, and safer responses.
Safer swimmers means learning how to swim, but if that’s not the case, putting on life jackets, or other flotation aids, especially for young children. It also means keeping a close eye on children in the water.
But children are not the only ones at risk. Young men make up 4 in 5 deaths from drowning. They tend to take more risks, or can be over confident about their swimming skills.
Safer waters mean swimming where there are lifeguards and away from structures that can cause dangerous currents around them.
Part of a safer response is knowing what it looks like when someone is in trouble in the water. “Hollywood portrays drowning as this very dramatic thing with the victim waving their arms and shouting for help, but when someone is drowning you will simply see their head tilted back in the water and a look of distress on their face,” said Benjamin.
The safe swimming experts recommend looking around the beach before trouble happens to spot items that can be used for floatation. For example, if you haven’t brought a cooler yourself, you will probably see others on the beach that can be used in an emergency.
If you find yourself in troubled waters, such as a rip current, the most important thing to do is not panic. Pratt recommends that you remember to flip, float, and follow. “Flip over on your back, float to conserve energy, and follow the current so that when you know where it is headed, you can swim out of it.”
October 21st, 2013 by Irene Miles
It’s beach season once again in southern Lake Michigan, and the rip current warnings have already begun.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued at least one advisory since Illinois and Indiana beaches opened last month asking beach-goers to think twice before taking a dip in the lake. And for good reason. Rip currents and other dangerous currents are the biggest threat to Great Lakes swimmers. Roughly 140 people have drowned in the lakes over the last 12 years due at least in part to dangerous currents. And most of those incidents happened in Lake Michigan.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant hopes to bring these numbers down with a new outreach effort that will raise awareness about dangerous currents in the Great Lakes. The “Implementing Dangerous Currents Best Practices” project was recently awarded funding from the NOAA Coastal Storms Program.
A collaborative effort Sea Grant programs in Michigan and Wisconsin, the project will include print and online resources—including educational videos—that introduce the science behind rip currents, provide tips for avoiding them, and explain what to do if you or others are caught in one. Many of these resources will be available in both English and Spanish.
Watch for further information on these outreach efforts and rip currents in the coming months. In the meantime, you can find tips for staying safe at the beach this summer at dangerouscurrents.org.
“Implementing Dangerous Currents Best Practices” continues years of efforts by Great Lakes Sea Grant programs, NOAA, and NWS to reduce dangerous currents drownings across the region. To learn more about these efforts, visit Rip Current Safety.
June 4th, 2013 by Irene Miles
Each of the Great Lakes is a natural wonder, but the basic facts of their formation and location also makes them dangerous. Each year swimmers and boaters struggle with dangers from weather and riptides.
“According to the National Weather Service, there were seven fatalities and 14 rescues on the Great Lakes caused at least partially by currents in the water. Lake Michigan had the most incidents as is typically the case. There are a few reasons why Lake Michigan is the most dangerous year after year. First is the combination of highest population and one of the warmer waters. Second is the shape of the lake which makes it conducive to rip currents.
This year did not have as many fatalities and rescues as compared to past years. The main reason for this was the colder summer keeping the number of swimmers down.
While currents caused by rip tides are dangerous, the most often cited reason for a rescue is structural. Piers and other structures make dangerous currents and create locations for injuries.
While the swimming season may be over, another very dangerous time on the Great Lakes is here. Fall is a season I’ve found to be most dangerous, especially on Saginaw Bay. Some duck hunters and fishers take unwise risks just to shoot a duck or catch a fish.”
Read the rest of the article at the link above, and learn more about how to avoid some of the dangers from rip currents with the National Weather Service’s rip current awareness website.
Swimmers, boaters, and anglers visiting Indiana’s coastline this summer will again be able to learn about conditions in Southern Lake Michigan thanks to real-time data collected by the Michigan City buoy. The buoy, launched for the first time last fall, returned to its post four miles from shore last week to collect data on wave height and direction, wind speed, and air and surface water temperatures. It will stay in the water until November.
The relaunch comes just in time to help make summer trips to Michigan City and the Indiana dunes safer. Throughout the season, scientists at the National Weather Service (NWS) in northern Indiana will use wave height and frequency data collected by the buoy to better anticipate likely locations of strong waves and rip currents that cause dangerous swimming conditions. The only one of its kind in the Indiana waters of the lake, the Michigan City buoy gives forecasters access to historically unavailable nearshore data where conditions are much different than at the center of the lake. Real-time data from the buoy has already helped NWS improve their wave height forecasts.
“This information is vital for NWS forecasters to access and accurately forecast the potential for dangerous swimming and boating conditions along southern Lake Michigan,” said John Taylor, a meteorologist with the NWS office in northern Indiana. “Our hope is that by accurately forecasting when high waves and rip currents along the shoreline will result in dangerous swimming conditions, we can reduce the number of tragic drownings that occur in these waters every summer.”
The site lets visitors see real-time snapshots of lake conditions—updated every 10 minutes—as well as trends over 24-hour and 5-day periods.
And this year, the Michigan City buoy joins the ranks of environmental monitors that contribute to NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center. The addition makes it possible for people to easily access data older than five days and track trends over longer periods of time. This archived data is particularly important for researchers and natural resource managers who rely on the buoy’s data to improve weather forecasts, protect water quality, and predict where best to fish.
The buoy launch also coincides with Rip Current Awareness Week, and is just one piece of a larger effort to protect people from the dangers of rip currents. Visit the Rip Current Awareness Week website to learn more about rip currents and what you can do to protect yourself this summer.