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.”
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.