About the Great Lakes Current Incident Database
Image from the University Of Michigan Coastal Engineering Department
Dave Guenther, a forecaster (now retired) at the National Weather Service in Marquette, MI started a database of possible rip current/channel current related incidents (rescues and drowning fatalities) on the Great Lakes. This database included information collected from news paper articles, online articles, and police reports….mainly the name of the victim, the age of the victim, how far they were from home, and what the conditions were at the time of the drowning. Events were only included as a rip current or channel current incident if the following requirement was met:
Any current was mentioned by the media/witnesses/victims/rescue and recovery teams as the primary or a partial cause for the incident.
Any events not meeting this criterion were NOT included in the database. This may account for differences in the numbers reported by other entities.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: INCIDENTS IN THE DATABASE ARE CURRENT-RELATED: MEANING INCIDENTS COULD HAVE BEEN A RESULT OF A COMBINATION OF HIGH WAVES AND CURRENTS. ADDITIONALLY, THESE NUMBERS SHOULD BE COMPARED WITH THE HIGH NUMBER OF VISITORS TO THE PARKS AND LOCAL BEACHES PER YEAR-WHICH IS ON THE ORDER OF MILLIONS.
Mr. Guenther retired in early 2011, and the data is now collected by Megan Dodson and Keith Cooley (NWS Marquette). The database extends from 2002-present.
Additional Caveats of Using This Data:
1. Realize that some media outlets attribute many drownings to rip currents even if that may not have been the case…which makes it difficult to verify. Some of these events may have been included unintentionally…though measures were taken to further investigate and verify with actual eyewitness accounts.
2. Additionally, rip current related incidents may be under-reported because rip currents were not recognized on the Great Lakes as 'rip currents' until recent years (since approx. 2001). An older misnomer for these dangerous currents is "the undertow."
3. Differences in reporting methods, such as widespread internet use-have allowed the data to be more easily collected, and this may affect the data (i.e it appears drowning deaths/rescues have increased since 2002…though it may be due to increased availability of information to incident collectors). Additionally, the term rip current was more widely advertised after 2005 (see #1).
4. Canadian events were difficult to find via newspaper articles, so the database is not complete. For example, there may be rip current development occurring on the northern side of Lake Superior, however articles and information have not been obtained for the database.
To learn more about Beach Hazards/Dangerous Currents on the Great Lakes, or you want us to come and do a presentation for a group, or if you want data from the database, Contact US!