Before families head to Lake Michigan for a day of fun at the beach, they will want to check a new Beach Hazard Statement the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids is launching Friday.
The alert will state water conditions in places like Holland, Muskegon and Grand Haven based on wind directions causing certain types of dangerous waves, according to Senior Forecaster Bob Dukesherer.
The statement will go out to the media but beach goers can sign up for it at www. weather.gov/grr.
"The deaths that we see due to drowning on Lake Michigan is significant in relation to other parts of the country." Dukesherer said.
Since 2002 there have been 70 deaths on Lake Michigan. There are several types of dangerous water currents that can be deadly. By families taking note of what the Beach Hazard Statement says, they can determine which beaches will be the safest on that particular day.
"That would be great, can keep the children safe and in fact all of the swimmers safe." Allendale resident and father of triplets Rob Falstrom said.
Don't confuse this with the current Lake Michigan nearshore forecast, which deals primarily with winds and wave heights for mariners. Click here for the marine forecast.
The Beach Hazards Forecast will specifically highlight deadly rip currents, longshore currents, structural currents, and wave action/height. There is a big misconception among many that rip currents are always the killer in Lake Michigan when a drowning is involved. In fact, the public in general is educated and geared toward blaming drownings and near drownings on rip currents. Click here for a complete definition and explanation on what a rip current is.
We need to recognize that there are several other types of hazards in Lake Michigan that can kill as well. In addition to all of these, a seiche (pronounced say-sh) is rare, but creates a back and forth motion of water that can generate deadly conditions. This is mostly associated with wave action/height and can be of greater concern with strong/severe thunderstorms as wind pushes surface water and "piles" it up.
The NWS will continue to issue a daily Surf Zone Forecast (once they start up again) and a Lake Michigan Recreational Beach Forecast highlighting various items like temperature, wave height, and wind speed. If a threat or hazard exists, a Beach Hazards Forecast will be issued in addition to the surf forecast. It will function like a advisory or warning for swimmers and beachgoers alerting them to potentially dangerous conditions. The information will offer specific details as to the type of hazard, timing, location, and potential impacts. As an example, a south wind at 15 - 25 mph would prompt a small craft advisory for boaters. It would also create 3 to 5 foot waves, and places like Grand Haven State Park and Pere Marquette would see structural currents on the south side of the piers creating a potentially dangerous situation.
What the NWS is trying to do is identify what the hazard will be on that day and where, so the public can become better informed and educated. Breaking the grip of a rip current is useless if your fighting a longshore or structural current. Make sure to check the beach forecast before going to the lakeshore this summer.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun