FERRYSBURG, Mich. — A shift in the winds made conditions dangerous the night a 16-year-old drowned at North Beach Park in Ferrysburg, meteorologists with the National Weather Service said Thursday.
The teen, a Mona Shores student, died Wednesday night. He apparently was swept out of the swimming area while at the beach with his church group.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service say about two hours before the drowning, winds shifted to the northwest; a dangerous direction for swimmers along the lakeshore.
“It was actually low swim risk earlier in the day,” said NWS Meteorologist Joe Ceru. “But conditions deteriorated, and they got bad in about 2-4 hours.”
Ceru said their instruments registered waves of about 5-feet on the lakeshore at the time of the drowning. He said anything betweeen 2-to-4-feet is dangerous.
“Whitecaps are a great indication of 2-to-4-foot waves,” he added. “When you see the white caps, then it’s a good idea to get out of the water.”
Wednesday night’s drowning represents the 56th on the Great Lakes in 2022 and the 26th on Lake Michigan this year, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
Wednesday night, a whiteboard sign at North Beach Park indicated swimming risk was low. But Ceru said at the time of the incident, swim risk was in fact high.
“The parks don’t have staff in order to change the flags in a timely manner and as a result, there may be a lag time,” said Bobby Pratt with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
The Ottawa County Parks Department had no comment on the sign Thursday.
Pratt says, in the absence of flag or written warnings, they’d like to see more education on water safety and more resources for in the moment response.
“The state of Michigan spends more than $30 million a year on the Pure Michigan campaign, and yet, we spend just pennies on keeping people safe,” Pratt said. “We’d love to see more rescue equipment on the beaches, and we’d love to see lifeguards brought back to our beaches.”
Nationwide, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in kids ages 1-4 and the second leading cause of accidental death in kids ages 15-and-under.
“We love the lake, but the fact that people call it a lake is kind of a misnomer,” said Pratt. “It deserves the respect that it has.”
For more information on the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, click here.