SANDUSKY, OH – Getting to Lake Erie swimming beaches is easier this year thanks to a Web site that provides detailed information and maps to each of Ohio’s more than 164 coastal public access sites. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Office of Coastal Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service want to ensure when you’re out exploring these special places along Ohio’s 312-mile shore, you do so safely.
Beach-goers are reminded that strong waves, currents and lakebed variations including sharp drop-offs occur on Lake Erie. During the right conditions, rip currents can develop.
Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore and can occur at any beach with breaking waves. When waves break, water is pushed up the slope of the shore. Gravity pulls this water back toward the lake. Due to lakebed variations, waves may break strongly in some locations and weakly in others causing the water to converge in narrow, river-like currents moving away from shore.
Rip currents do not pull people under the water; they pull people away from shore. Drowning usually occurs when people panic and are unable to keep themselves afloat to swim back to shore. To heighten awareness of rip currents at beaches, each year NOAA designates the first full week of June as National Rip Current Awareness Week, June 5-11 this year.
If caught in a rip current, you will feel yourself being pulled away from the shore. If this happens, remain calm to conserve energy. Never fight against the current; instead, swim out of the current in a direction parallel to the shore. If you are unable to swim out of the current, float or tread water until the current stops pulling you lakeward then swim at an angle away from the current and toward the shore.
Signs of rip currents may be hard to spot, but can include a channel of churning, choppy water; an area of water of a different color; a line of debris moving steadily offshore; or a break in the incoming wave pattern as waves usually do not break as readily in a rip current as in adjacent water.
Rip currents are more likely to form on beaches with a sand bar and channel system in the near-shore. They can also occur when a water current traveling along the shore encounters a structure such as a groin, a rigid structure built from the shore that interrupts water flow and limits the movement of sediment, or a jetty, which extends into a body of water to protect a harbor or coast from the effects of currents and tides, and is forced offshore.
If you see someone caught in a current, don’t become a victim too. Get help from a lifeguard, call 9-1-1, throw the victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape.
Additional tips for a safe Lake Erie beach season include:
Swim with a buddy and designate one person from your group to stay on the beach and watch those who are swimming.
Encourage children and those who are not strong swimmers to wear life jackets. During high wave action everyone should wear life jackets or stay out of the water.
Lake Erie, unlike pools, may have unseen drop-offs where water levels quickly become higher than your head. Wave actions moves the nearshore sand therefore these drop-offs may change from day to day and even while one is at the beach if there are high waves.
Bring a cell phone to make an emergency call if necessary.
All of Lake Erie’s swimming beaches are noted with the swimmer icon in the print and online versions of Ohio’s Lake Erie Public Access Guidebook. Printed copies of the book are available through the Office of Coastal Management and various locations across the coast. Online you can download the entire guidebook in its entirety, by county or by site. Each site also has its own Webpage with links to water quality monitoring results from the Ohio Department of Health and an interactive map that you can us on smart phones without any special applications. The online beach guide is available by selecting the “Visit Ohio’s Coast” link at www.ohiodnr.com/coastal.
Additional rip current safety information from NOAA is at: www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.
The ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR Web site at: www.ohiodnr.com.
Brenda Culler, ODNR Office of Coastal Management
419. 626. 7980
Kirk Lombardy, NOAA National Weather Service Cleveland Forecast Office
216. 265. 2370
Jason Fallon, ODNR Office of Communications
614. 265. 6842