A History Of Rip Currents and Channel Currents on the Great Lakes
According to the United States Lifesaving Association, rip currents account for over 80% of the rescues on surf beaches! In addition, there are over 100 rip current drowning deaths per year in the United states. How many of these drowning deaths occur in the Great Lakes? The National Weather Service in Marquette has been collecting data on Great Lakes current related deaths and rescues for the past 8 years. According to the database, there is an average of 10 drowning deaths per year on the Great Lakes due to rip currents and channel currents. Lake Michigan has the highest number of incidents, with 59 recorded deaths and at least 127 rescues since 2002.
(Deaths, Rescues) by lake due to Rip Currents and Channel Currents
2002-2010 : Numbers are based on the NWS Marquette database.
Lake Michigan has the higher number of drownings for multiple reasons. Firstly, Lake Michigan's eastern coast has miles and miles of sandy beaches that are a popular tourist attraction. Secondly, the beaches where most of the incidents occur are on the eastern side of the lake. In order for rip currents to develop, winds must be moving onshore (towards the beach) or parallel to shore. Since weather systems move from west to east, the eastern shores of Lake Michigan see more drownings. Lastly, many of the popular beaches have a breakwall structure jetting out into the lake with sandbars, which is ideal for rip current development.
Rip current and channel current (deaths, rescues) in Michigan
2002-2010: Numbers are based on the NWS Marquette Database
Over the past 8 years, the Great Lakes has averaged around 10 deaths per year. 2010 was a particularly deadly season, with 30 drowning deaths due to rip currents and channel currents on the Great Lakes. The reason may very well be because of a higher number of days with strong winds and higher waves. Rip currents and channel currents typically develop in these situations. There are other factors that play into the number of incidents, such as differences in how many people went to the beach each year, their level of knowledge on hazards in the lake, temperatures of the water and air and whether or not the victims could swim well.
Keep in mind that the data was collected via newspaper/online articles. Since the number of reporting methods have increased (the internet, etc) and the recognition of rip currents and channel currents is increasing...it looks like the number of incidents are increasing each year when it may in actuality not be. In an attempt to remove false reports (blaming death on rip currents when it was actually due to another cause), all incidents were further investigated to be sure that the conditions of the winds and waves were suitable for rip current development. In the database, there are a whopping 263 incidents involving rip currents and channel currents on the Great Lakes. If you would like more information on this database (how the data was collected, etc) feel free to contact our local office at 906-475-5212. Ask for the rip current team leader. This information will soon be posted on the NWS Marquette Rip Current Page.
2002-2010 total deaths and rescues due to channel currents and Rip Currents on the Great Lakes.
The abnormally high number of rescues in 2009 was due to one BAD day to go into Lake Michigan.
On this day, 23 people had to be rescued in the span of 5 hours near the same breakwall.
Numbers are based on the NWS Marquette Database.
Stay tuned for the following:
Tuesday: All About Rip Currents and Channel Currents
Wednesday: Rip Currents and Channel Currents: A Focus on Lake Superior
Thursday: How to Stay Safe on The Beach
Friday: NWS Marquette: Beach Recreation Page and the Surf Zone Forecast
Saturday: Summary of Rip Current Awareness Week
In addition, you can listen to NOAA Weather Radio for daily PSA's on Rip Currents or visit our National Rip Current Page at: