Roiling, Rippling Rips


Rips, ©2013.

I swim frequently in Lake Michigan and am continually reminded of its power. One big storm can move a sandbar and change the wave patterns at a familiar beach. I check and recheck for rip current alerts before we head to the water. Even when the “coast is clear,” I keep my eyes on the sandbars, looking for the familiar churning of sand that signals a rip. Rip cur­rents are the most threat­en­ing nat­ural haz­ard along the shores of Lake Michigan. A rip cur­rent is a “sea­ward” mov­ing cur­rent. Imag­ine a sandy “under­wa­ter river” sud­denly form­ing and occur­ring on the bot­tom of the lake. Rips are cre­ated when accu­mu­lat­ing waves on shore use grav­ity to get back to open sea. When some­thing gives — the sand­bars on the lake floor — every­thing in its path is cat­a­pulted out into open sea. If you are pulled away from shore by a rip current don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When you are out of the current, swim towards shoreWe witnessed tragedy last summer when a man was swept out and under while saving two children whose kayak had capsized. With 8 to 12 foot waves no one should have been in the water for even the hardiest swimmer is no match for the lake on a day like that one. He did not survive and I will remember him every time we venture to the water.

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A feral force day on Lake Michigan.