Marquette National Weather Service Beach Hazards Program

  History of the Marquette Beach Hazards Program

      In 1998, the Mackinac Water Safety Review Team (MCWSRT) was established at St. Ignace following the drowning death of 12 year old Travis Brown along the beaches of Mackinac County. On April 12, 2001, Dave Guenther (Marine team leader at NWS Marquette) was asked by the MCWSRT to make a presentation of the feasibility of forecasting rip currents on the Great Lakes. He outlined a suggested program that would be needed to be able to forecast rip currents. After this, Dave started collecting data using the internet, on drowning deaths attributed to strong currents on the Great Lakes.

     Then on July 5, 2003, Dave was asked by NWS Central Region Headquarters to do a case study on the rip current drowning deaths that occurred on July 4 that year around Warren Dunes in southern Lake Michigan. On April 6, 2004, Dave presented his case study on that event at the National Rip Current Workshop in Jacksonville, FL. Dr. Guy Meadows from the University of Michigan also presented his research findings on the Great Lakes Rip Currents.

      In June 2005, the Marquette NWS started to include rip current hazard risks in the Hazardous Weather Outlook product (HWO). By June 2008, the office added the Lakeshore Hazard Messages in order to provide additional rip current information. Finally, in June 2010, the office began to issue the Surf Zone Forecast (in Marquette and Alger counties) as the primary means of making the public aware of rip current hazards, in addition to headlining the HWO during times of moderate/high risk.

     In January 2011, Dave Guenther retired after many years of Government service. He handed the program to Megan Dodson (Babich), an Associate Forecaster in the office. Mrs. Dodson took the data and case studies that Mr. Guenther collected and created a database, now known as the Great Lakes Current Incident Database (GLCID), then developed this webpage for easy public access to the data and rip current/channel current information. This data has been presented by Mrs. Dodson at several conferences, including the Great Lakes Water Safety Conference in Gaylord, MI (2011 and 2012) and the Great Lakes Operational Meteorology Workshop in Chicago, IL (2012). Keith Cooley, another associate forecaster in the office joined the program in 2012, and is heavily involved in studying the channel current at Picnic Rocks. He presented the data from the channel current project at the Great Lakes Operational Meteorology Conference (2012) and the Great Lakes Water Safety Conference (2012), and maintains the channel current portion of this webpage. Mrs. Dodson and Mr. Cooley now maintain the GLCID and are working on putting a searchable version of the database online for public access.

Rip Current Program becomes Beach Hazards Program for 2013

After analyzing Great Lakes drowning fatalities and rescues over the years, it became clear that the causes of the incidents were not only rip currents. High waves, longshore currents, structural currents, and channel currents played a part in many of these incidents. Additionally, various forecast offices received information that the traditional escape method of "swimming parallel to shore" did not work for victims caught in rip currents that develop near breakwalls and piers, or structural currents. As a result, the NWS offices on the Great Lakes (including NWS Marquette) decided to transition to a more "All Hazards" approach to beach safety and education. This approach will allow us to educate the public on high wave action and all different types of currents, not just rip currents.The surf zone forecast, now known as the "Recreational Beach Forecast" will no longer contain a rip current risk-it will now be a "swim risk" to account for additional hazards like channel currents, structural currents, and high waves. Additionally, NWS offices will be issuing a "Beach Hazards Statement" during times where high waves and dangerous rip currents pose a serious threat to swimmers. This will help to condense the multitude of "rip current statements" and forecasts available so it is not as confusing to the public. Finally, NWS Marquette has changed its program from the "Rip Current Program" to the "Beach Hazards Program" to be more in line with this new outreach campaign. Our overall goal is to decrease the number of Great Lakes drowning and rescue incidents through education and forecasting of Beach Hazards.

The NWS Marquette Beach Hazards Program

Program Manager: Megan Dodson (Babich)

Assistant Program Manager: Keith Cooley

NWS Marquette is also part of the National Rip Current Team is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.