NWS warns of dangerous swim conditions on Lake Michigan

Lifeguard shares five tips to rescue yourself from rip currents



PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI/WOOD) — Lake Michigan boaters and beach visitors, beware: the National Weather Service is warning about potentially dangerous swimming conditions through Friday evening.

Red flags are expected to fly at beaches across West Michigan, as high waves, structural currents and rip currents are possible.

A diagram of a structural current, courtesy the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
A diagram of a structural current, courtesy the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

While thunderstorms pose a visible danger to swimmers, rip currents pose a hidden risk that not’s so easy to see.

Rip currents are powerful channels of water that can pull a swimmer away from shore. They commonly occur at low spots or breaks in sandbars.

Structural currents also sweep swimmers into deeper water, but form along piers where waves and currents hit the structure.

>>Related: Lake Michigan beach and boating conditions

Scarborough Beach Lifeguard Captain Joel Sienko told WPRI swimmers caught in a rip current should ignore the urge to panic.

“The important thing is to stay calm and follow the instructions of the lifeguard,” he said. “We will usually whistle at them and tell them to swim parallel to the shore.”

Here’s how to swim out of a rip current:

  • Stay calm.
  • Don’t fight the current.
  • Escape by swimming in a direction following the shoreline. When free of the current, swim at an angle— away from the current—toward shore.
  • If you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread water. When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
  • If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, call or wave for help.

For more tips from Sienko, watch the video above.


The original version of this story was first published by WPRI.

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