CHICAGO (CBS) — High waves and the threat of strong rip currents have prompted a beach hazards statement for much of the area.
The National Weather Service said a beach hazards statement will be in effect through Wednesday morning. It covers all Lake Michigan beaches within Cook County, as well as those in Lake and Porter counties in Indiana.
High wave action and dangerous swimming conditions are expected, the NWS warned. Waves are expected to crest at 3 to 5 feet.
Strong rip currents and structural currents are also expected, the NWS said. The NWS warned that the waves and currents could be life-threatening, and those visiting the beaches should stay out of the water.
The water will be more dangerous at exposed beaches than at beaches with breakwalls or jetties, the NWS said.
There have been far more drownings so far this year than at the same point in 2018, and the numbers keep creeping up.
Data compiled by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project indicate that so far this year, Lake Michigan has had 27 drownings – an increase of 80 percent, and more than all the other Great Lakes combined.
Experts point to higher lake levels and the relatively mild winter, making the summer’s water temperature warmer and attracting more beach goers. Lake Michigan’s beaches are also popular with tourists.
But the nature of Lake Michigan makes it particularly perilous.
The lake is 307 miles long, and 118 miles at its widest point. Winds create frequent waves – sometimes every 2 seconds, Halle Quezada of the Chicago Alliance for Water Safety told CBS 2’s Jim Williams on Monday.
“So imagine you’re struggling and you can’t touch and you get knocked down by a wave. By the time you orient yourself to get your head up again, you can’t see the shore – and another wave is coming in and knocking you down again,” Quezada said. “That causes panic, and panic kills.”
Panic kills even among good swimmers, officials warned.