WEST MICHIGAN – 2012 marked the first year the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids decided to try a beach hazards forecast. It highlights the possible risks on a daily basis for swimmers and beachgoers along the Lake Michigan shoreline. It tuned out to be successful enough to become the model product for weather service offices around the country. That said, this week is Beach Hazard Awareness Week.
Everyone always talks about rip currents. How they can kill, how dangerous they are, and how to escape them. While all of these statements are true, it’s important to note that it’s not only rip currents that threaten lives. As the attached photo shows, there are several types of currents/risks/threats swimmers need to be aware of.
Structural currents are currents that can develop along piers and jetties that otherwise normally may not be there. When strong winds move water in to a structure that’s perpendicular to the flow, unforeseen currents can develop that can kill.
Longshore currents are currents that develop from the overall long-pattern flow of the water. With a south or southwest flow the longshore threat would typically be from south to north parallel to the shore. With a north or northwest flow the longshore threat would typically be from north to south.
Rip currents are fast-moving narrow channels of water that develop (many times are unnoticeable and/or erratic) and flow from the beach out to deeper water. They can carry a swimmer out to sea very quickly unless the grip of the rip can be broken by staying calm and swimming parallel to the shore.
Other beach hazards include breaking waves coming in from deeper water that can knock swimmers off their feet and pull them under. And finally, wave motion on the beach…a strong sweeping motion (some call it an under-toe) that pulls swimmers from the beach out to deeper water.
It’s important to note that most of these hazards are not present with light winds and little/no wave height. The primary threat(s) arise when winds increase, wave height increases, and people do not heed the watches/warnings/advisories posted. Anytime there is a moderate or high beach hazard risk along our Lake Michigan shoreline for swimmers, FOX 17 will always alert you to it the night before and/or the morning of. Our meteorologists have made sure to make this a priority again in 2013 to work with and correspond with the National Weather Service campaign.
If you like more information on Beach Hazards Awareness Week or any of the potential threats that exist for swimmers, click here for more information.