2016 spike in Great Lakes drownings linked to warm weather – Thunder Bay

Water safety advocates around the Great Lakes are hoping the upcoming summer won’t follow a trend set last year. 

2016 was a particularly deadly year on Great Lakes, said Jamie Racklyeft, the executive director of the Michigan-based Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium.

“We saw a definite spike,” said Racklyeft, citing data collected by The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, which tracks drownings based on media reports from both Canada and the U.S. 

“A 78 per cent spike in drownings on the Great Lakes from 2015 to 2016.”

The jump from 55 recorded drownings on the Great Lakes in 2015, to 98 in 2016 is being attributed to warm weather, and high water levels, he said. 

The U.S.-based Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, which has been collecting data on Great Lakes drownings since 2010, noted spikes in 2016 and 2012. (Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project)

“So the air temperature was warmer, which drew more people to the beaches. The water was warmer, which drew more people from the beaches and into the water. And water levels were higher, so the wave energy was closer to shore where the people were.” 

Saved ‘at the last second’

Racklyeft knows all too well how dangerous the Great Lakes can be. It was a close call in 2012 that inspired him to start the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium. 

He was swimming in Lake Michigan on a wavy day, when he felt himself overpowered by a current pulling him away from shore. He nearly drowned, he said. 

“Fortunately two brave strangers in a kayak saved me at the last second.”

Strong currents pose dangers

The majority of Great Lakes rescues and fatalities occur when waves are high, said Megan Dodson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana, and many are also linked to strong currents.

Water safety experts advise people to “flip, float and follow,” when caught in a current. Flip onto your back and float, and do not try to fight against the current. Since the currents tend to be…

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