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 shore. We 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.
A feral force day on Lake Michigan.