Rip Currents and Southeastern Lake Michigan
What you need to know

Rip currents incidents have become a more common story in the local media in the past several years. For 2010 alone, 5 people have drowned as a result of the dangerous effects of rip currents in the nearshore waters between Michigan City , Indiana and St. Joseph, Michigan. This page will hopefully give those going to the beaches of far southeastern Lake Michigan a better understanding of rip currents and the dangers they pose.

What are rip currents and why should I be aware of them?

Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.

The shape of the far southeastern lakeshore of Lake Michigan, as well as numerous piers and jetties that dot the lakeshore, combine to give many of the beaches an increased risk of rip currents. The risk is based solely on the shore conditions, winds, waves and local features and has nothing to do whether the beach is owned by an individual, private group or public. Beaches that have features that seem to cause a heightened risk of rip currents include around the piers at Michigan City, IN and Saint Joseph, MI, as well at Warren Dunes and Silver Beach. Many beach goers are not fully aware of the risk that exists when they go swimming during certain conditions, and it is not just visitors to the area that can be affected. Everyone is at risk of rip currents

Am I at a greater risk of being injured or killed by a thunderstorm than a rip current?

We always hear about tornadoes, strong winds and flooding causing deaths and injuries. The statistics compared to rip currents alone are rather pronounced and could even be considered worrisome. Keep in mind that these statistics represent only the Northern Indiana (IWX) area of marine responsibility.


Deaths (2000-Sept. 2010)-Michigan City Indiana to St. Joseph Mi Shoreline
Rip Currents Tornadoes Strong Winds Flooding
17 6 6 4

So how can I protect myself and decide if it is safe to swim?

When you approach the water to swim, the signs of a rip current may not be readily visible to you. However, there are several ways to be aware of either an increased risk for rip currents on a particular day or that a rip current may already exist.

Before you go to the beach,

  • Look at the expected weather conditions. 

  • Find out if there is an increased risk of rip currents from several products issued by the NWS Office in Northern Indiana
  • At the beach
    • Look at the waves breaking on shore. The larger the waves, the greater the risk of rip currents. Be particularily aware of waves along piers, jetties and other features that stick out into the water.
    • Look for breaks in the waves. This is a good indicator of a potential rip current either exisiting or developing.
    • Many public beaches utilize a flag system to alert swimmers of dangers. If a yellow or red flag is flying, ask what the risks are for that day.

Where can I find out more information on rip currents?

This is just a small overview of the hazards of rip currents and how to watch for them.  More detailed information can be found on the National  Weather Service Rip Current Safety Page.

The Rip Current Safety Page also includes videos and brochures to help understand the best way to avoid and survive Rip Currents. 

Remember, "If in doubt, don't go out!" 

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