Rip Current Awareness Week: How can the Marquette NWS help you to prepare for a day at the beach?
Reading about all of the problems with rip currents and channel currents can make it seem like the lake is a bad place to hang out...but it can be a great place if safety precautions are taken. Not only does one need to be knowledgeable about the beach itself (Guarded? Dangerous Currents? Rescue Equipment?), but they must also remain knowledge about what the weather will be like that day. The winds and waves are what cause these dangerous currents to develop, so knowing what conditions are present that day on the lake is important. This is where the National Weather Service comes in.
Many of the Great Lakes National Weather Service (NWS) offices along the Great Lakes Shoreline produce what is called a surf zone forecast. This product uses three hazard levels to denote the risk of rip currents at certain locations. These levels are as follows:
Take notice that a LOW risk doesn't mean NO risk. It means that rip currents are less likely to develop under that day's expected weather conditions. However, rip currents can still develop along piers, breakwalls, and any other structures jetting out into the lake.
What does a Surf Zone Forecast look like?
The surf zone forecast for the Marquette NWS can give you more than just the rip current risk. It will also show you the weather forecast (rain, thunderstorms, winds, etc) and the water temperature and waves. Below is an example of what it looks like:
The Marquette NWS currently does this forecast only for Marquette and Alger Counties in Upper Michigan.
Where can I find the Marquette or Alger county Surf zone forecast (SRF)?
Go to our main webpage. Near the bottom under Additional Info, you will find RIP CURRENT RISK. Click on that, and it will take you to our main Rip Current Page.
Once you click the link, it will take you to our Beach Recreation Page.
On this page you can find links about that days weather forecast (the weather story), the current radar imagery (to check for storms or rain showers before you head out), and various water and weather safety links. By July, there will be additional links about Picnic Rocks and the channel current, and a link to Great Lakes Rip Current and Channel Current History. This page will allow you to scan through the various lakes and read about past rip current or channel current events. Bear with us though, that is still in progress. Below is what the page looks like now. Once there is a risk for rip currents, the coast will be highlighted in the appropriate colors (red for high, yellow for moderate, and green for low).
Offices that are on the Great Lakes that do NOT produce a Surf Zone Forecast tend to mention the risk of rip currents in their Hazardous Weather Outlook (HWO) product. This product is a one-stop-shop for hazardous weather info, including thunderstorms, rip currents, frost, and more. The Detroit NWS and Cleveland NWS use this. This product is located on the mainpage of each office under Current Hazards: Outlooks. Clicking on this link will take you to the current Marquette NWS Hazardous weather outlook. NWS Marquette will use this product in conjunction with the Surf Zone Forecast to warn of the rip current risk. We will also post a Top News of the Day story (top of the mainpage) to highlight moderate or high risks.
In some offices, they use the Coastal/Lakeshore Hazard message. This is similar to the Hazardous Weather Outlook, except it is not issued everyday and it is specifically used for the lakeshore. Marquette used to use this to communicate rip current risk in the past, but now our primary way is through the SRF and the HWO.
If you ever need help navigating any of the NWS pages, or want a forecast, give your local office a call. The NWS Marquette office can be reached 24-7 at 906-475-5212.
For information about rip currents, go to the National Rip Current Page at: NOAA Rip Current Page
This concludes our daily stories on rip currents and channel currents in the Great Lakes for Rip Current Awareness Week. Most of the information you have seen throughout the week will be posted on the Marquette Beach Recreation Page by July. The Surf Zone Forecast will be issued everyday of the summer, starting June 15, 2011. Thanks, and stay safe at the beach this year!!!