Preparing You for the Beach - "Know Before You Go"
Beginning in 2014, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Milwaukee/Sullivan will issue several products to alert the public of possible hazards at beaches on Lake Michigan in southeast Wisconsin. Part of being safe on the beach means checking the wave and weather conditions before leaving the house, hence the saying "Know Before You Go". These beach products will typically be issued from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The NWS in Milwaukee/Sullivan will issue a daily "Recreational Beach Forecast" for southeast Wisconsin beaches on Lake Michigan from Sheboygan to Kenosha by 5 am CDT so potential beach goers have ample time to plan their day. This forecast will give information about that day's expected beach conditions including: air and water temperatures, wind speed and direction, and wave heights.
The latest Recreational Beach Forecast can be found here.
Each day will also be assigned a "swim risk" of either low, moderate or high, based on what hazards are expected at the lakeshore.
The below chart indicates what each swim risk level is associated with:
Swim Hazard Risk Level
A low risk of swimming hazards imply that large waves and strong currents are not expected along the shore.
A moderate risk of swimming hazards imply that large waves and strong currents are likely along the shore. Only experienced swimmers should consider entering the water.
A high risk of swimming hazards imply dangerous waves and currents are expected along the shore. Swimming conditions may be life threatening to anyone entering the water.
When there is a high risk of swimming hazards for the coming day, the NWS office in Milwaukee/Sullivan will issue a "Beach Hazards Statement". The lakeshore counties included in the Beach Hazard Statement will be highlighted on the main page of our webpage.
The extended period swim risk is liable to change as the actual day approaches, and the wind and wave forecast becomes clearer.
Beach Hazards Statement: What hazards will be covered?
The Beach Hazards Statement will cover the enhanced threat for hazardous wave heights and dangerous currents for beaches from Sheboygan to Kenosha. Depending on wind speed and direction, and wave direction, different beaches would be threatened by a greater risk of rip currents, longshore currents or structural currents as well as hazardous waves. The beaches that are most susceptible that day will be highlighted in the Beach Hazard Statement.
The NWS in Milwaukee/Sullivan will issue a "Beach Hazard Statement" when there is a high swim risk of swimming hazards caused by high waves of at least 3 to 5 feet and dangerous currents.
Beach Hazard Definitions:
High waves of at least 3 to 5 feet makes swimming difficult, and can tire even a strong swimmer quickly.
Structural Currents form along piers, breakwalls and jetties where longshore currents and wave action flow into the structure. Structural currents can sweep you out into deeper water along the structure.
Longshore Currents are a lake current that moves parallel to shore. Longshore currents can be strong enough to prevent swimmers from being able to keep their feet on the bottom, making it difficult to return to shore.
Outlet Currents occur where water flows from river mouths or other outlets into the lake. Never swim near river mouths or other outlets as the current can sweep you into deeper water.
Channel Currents are strong currents that move parallel to shore in between the beach and an offshore feature, such as a set of rocks or an island, or breakwall.
Rip Currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore, which occur most often at low spots or breaks in sandbars. Rip currents can sweep you into deeper water.
Dangerous Currents describe a collection of currents and conditions which place beach goers at risk.
The latest Beach Hazards Statement can be found here.
A second daily Recreational Beach Forecast will be issued later in the day around 5 pm CDT that will forecast the expected beach conditions for the following day.
Before you venture out to the beach this warm season, check our website at www.weather.gov/milwaukee to check the latest Recreational Beach Forecast and whether a Beach Hazard Statement is in effect.
Swimming at Lake Michigan beaches is a wonderful part of living in or visiting southeast Wisconsin, but on days when waves are high and currents are strong, it can be a dangerous activity and one that should be postponed until the hazardous conditions subside. Please stay informed and safe this summer and enjoy the beach.
Comments on the National Weather Service Milwaukee/Sullivan beach and marine program can be addressed to Senior Meteorologist Marc Kavinsky.