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Lake Michigan: the deadliest Great Lake

NOAA/NWS
As we roll into the big Memorial Day weekend, many of us will be heading to the beaches along Lake Michigan to soak up some late-May rays. Fortunately, Mother Nature will cooperate for the most part this year. It's shaping up to be hot, humid and mainly dry Friday thru Memorial "Day. There could be a few showers or storms Saturday, but those chances are not all too impressive.

The water temperatures near the coast will also warm up during the holiday weekend. They will rise into the middle and upper 60s; some lower 70s lake water temperatures are even possible immediately along the shore during the late afternoon and early evening hours. That will make swimming and entering the water much more tolerable and enjoyable, which means more swimmers are likely to enter the lake. That, in turn, translates to more people at risk to get caught up in a dangerous rip current. 

Rip currents are a relatively strong, narrow currents flowing outward from the beach through the surf zone where waves break. They present hazardous water conditions to inexperienced swimmers. The water can flow quite fast, and can pull swimmers well out into the lake/ocean. If caught in one, it's important to not panic, tread water to stay afloat and wave down help. If possible, you should swim parallel to the shoreline out of the rip current. Avoid swimming near piers, jetties and mouths of rivers and streams, as they can induce rip current formation. It's highly encouraged to swim near lifeguards as well when possible.

Rip currents were responsible for 70 deaths in the United States in 2017. That's more than tornadoes and lightning combined! And, while not all deaths that occur on the Great Lakes are direct results of rip currents, some are. There have been a total of 641 drownings among the five Great Lakes since 2010. Leading the way is Lake Michigan, which has seen 297 of those 641 drownings. That's good for more than 46% of all Great Lakes drownings! Many of those do happen in near-shore waters near Chicago, Michigan City, New Buffalo, St. Joseph, South Haven, and Muskegon. 

Thankfully, the waters will be tranquil for the holiday weekend. Winds are expected to remain relatively light through Monday with a few gusts up to 15 MPH possible. Waves will likely remain in check as well with maximum heights not expected to exceed 1 foot. There will also be a lack of thunderstorms for the most part throughout the weekend. This all bodes well for swimming and boating activities. The overall rip current risk and dangerous swimming risk look to remain very low.


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