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Organizations Target Deadly Great Lakes Rip Currents

March 25, 2004

Rip currents have been involved in several drowning deaths in the Great Lakes region in recent years, including one in Duluth last summer. Preventing deaths from drowning at beaches and piers is the focus of a Sea Grant-organized Great Lakes Rip Current Conference, Thursday, April 29, at Little Bear Arena in St. Ignace, MI.

Jesse Schomberg, coastal communities extension educator for Minnesota Sea Grant, says it’s important that conference participants learn about the forces and conditions involved in rip currents and about educational strategies designed to prevent drowning deaths.

Guy Meadows, Sea Grant-funded researcher at the University of Michigan, will present what is and is not known about the mechanics of rip current generation in the Great Lakes. Meadows has found that rip currents in the Great Lakes can be particularly treacherous because Great Lakes storms and waves can build with alarming speed. He says that now is a particularly dangerous time because of recent low water levels.

Dave Guenther of the National Weather Service will describe wind and wave conditions associated with Great Lakes rip current drowning deaths. The rapidly increasing wave heights of Great Lakes storms catch unsuspecting swimmers by surprise. Guenther says it’s vital that beachgoers learn about the hazards of rip currents. Jim Dreyer, who has swam across four Great Lakes, will talk about his experiences in the waves and winds of the freshwater seas.

Representatives of the Mackinac County Water Safety Review Team will describe their efforts to educate the public, including the life saving stations they have developed along U.S. Highway 2 at the northern end of Lake Michigan.

The registration fee for the conference is $15 before April 25, $25 after, and includes lunch, breaks, and conference materials. To request a disability accommodation, contact Ron Kinnunen by April 15 at (906) 226-3687.

Organized by Michigan Sea Grant, the event is sponsored by other NOAA/Sea Grant programs in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, Michigan State University Extension, the Mackinac County Water Safety Review Team, the Great Lakes Beach and Pier Safety Task Force, the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering-Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories-College of Engineering, and Upper Peninsula Emergency Medical Services.

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