Experts warn of rip currents in Lake Michigan

August 25, 2010 4:45:40 AM PDT
As divers search for the body of an Indiana teenager in the water in Michigan City, experts are warning swimmers about the danger of rip currents.

The National Weather Service says there's a heightened risk for rip currents in some areas in Lake Michigan.

On Tuesday morning rescue workers found the body of 14-year-old Scott Hoover. They are still looking for 17-year-old Lorenzo Greer. The two teens were swimming in the lake Sunday afternoon and were apparently unaware or ignoring the red flags warning about strong rip currents.

"I never thought he'd drown in the water 'cause he's a good swimmer," said John Greer, father.

"I just want my baby home. I know that's not going to happen but it's hard," said Candelaria Patterson, mother.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service say weather conditions that create the strong rip currents that likely caught the two teens happen pretty infrequently in the summer. They're caused by strong north to northeast winds.

The winds create waves on the surface of the lake that can reach three to five feet. But underneath the water there are breaks in the sand wall that force the water back out in a rush at two to five feet a second - too much for even the strongest swimmers to fight off.

"The water in those channels could be flowing very rapidly outward and that's where the problem is. You get caught in one of those and a lot of people will panic in that situation because you get dragged out to deeper water," said Jim Allsopp, National Weather Service.

The strong waves and rip current forced divers to call off their search for a time on Sunday. The waters Tuesday night were relatively calm at Calumet Beach but a predicted cold front overnight prompted another rip current warning for Wednesday and Thursday. Authorities are hoping to avoid another tragedy.

"Everything was prime for drowning because of the conditions. And we've said it over and over. You can't out-muscle Lake Michigan," said Officer Gene Davis, Indiana DNR.

The current warning takes effect overnight and goes through Thursday morning. It covers beaches on the far south end of Chicago as well as Indiana and Michigan where the surface near the shore tends to be deeper.

Experts say the best thing to do if you are caught in the current is to try to swim sideways to get out of it rather than toward the shore against the current.


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