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The Deadliest Great Lake for Drownings

Posted On July 12, 2019

Lake Michigan is the deadliest of all the Great Lakes, accounting for four times as many drowning deaths as the other four Great Lakes combined.

Lake Michigan Drowning Deaths

Drowning deaths at Lake Michigan far exceed deaths at all of the other Great Lakes combined. Lake Michigan’s shape and formation mean weather and wave conditions can quickly create hazardous currents that can overtake even the best swimmers. Since 2010, Lake Michigan has had at least four times the amount of drowning deaths as Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and Lake Superior put together. At least 15 Lake Michigan drowning deaths have occurred in the Greater Chicago area.

According to data from the National Weather Service, Lake Michigan had 253 water rescues of swimmers caught in currents and 83 current-related drowning deaths between 2002 and 2015. During the same time span, the four other Great Lakes combined had 68 swimmer water rescues and 69 drowning deaths. In 2016, Lake Michigan had 20 drowning deaths, compared to 5 at Lake Erie, 2 at Lake Huron, 8 at Lake Ontario, and 3 at Lake Superior.

In August 2018, the National Weather Service issued a warning for life-threatening conditions at Lake Michigan due to 7-foot waves and powerful rip currents. People were warned to stay out of the water and exercise caution near the shoreline. The hazardous conditions warning was issued following the drowning deaths of three young boys who were pulled from the lake just days before.

The National Weather Service says that most drowning deaths at Lake Michigan occur in July and August, so people should be aware of hazardous conditions and exercise caution when entering the lake. With sandy beaches and over 300 miles of uninterrupted shoreline, Lake Michigan attracts thousands of beachgoers and swimmers every day during warm weather. Experts say that the forceful currents create waves that occur every three minutes, putting swimmers at increased risk of personal injury or death.

Lake Michigan also has many offshore sandbars that swimmers often use for stable footing. These sandbars give swimmers a false sense of security. Water is often neck-deep when they step off. If a large wave hits unexpectedly, swimmers can suddenly find themselves in serious trouble getting pulled under the water before lifeguards realize they need help.

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