CHICAGO — Lake Michigan continues to be the deadliest of the Great Lakes, with the number of drownings increasing significantly so far this year compared with last, an advocacy group that tracks drownings said.
According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, a group that tracks drownings across the Great Lakes, 27 people have drowned in Lake Michigan this year. That’s 80% higher than this time last year, when there were 15 drownings.
Among the reasons there are so many drownings in Lake Michigan is that it’s an attractive tourist destination, there’s a high population density along the lakefront and the shape of the lake leads to more dangerous swim conditions, said Dave Benjamin, the project’s executive director.
This year, more people have drowned in Lake Michigan than the other Great Lakes combined.
“The more people, the greater chance of something going wrong,” Benjamin said.
Lake Michigan is 307 miles long and 118 miles wide and has more than 1,600 miles of shoreline, much of it adjacent to major cities like Chicago and Milwaukee.
Lake Michigan’s length and physical makeup help create strong waves, which can build for hundreds of miles before crashing onto shore.
“When you have winds coming from the north moving south, and as the wind is able to cover that long distance, it’s able to push the water from the north to south and increase those wave heights,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Brown.
Another hazard in Lake Michigan is the strong structural currents that form along structures like piers and jetties, pushing people out into open water, Brown said.
This weekend, a 32-year-old Michigan man’s body was pulled out of Lake Michigan near Indiana Dunes State Park. Last week, a 27-year-old man died after he was pulled from Lake Michigan near Rainbow Beach, a month after a 5-year-old girl died after being found in the lake there.
Water safety advocates said the best way to decrease drownings is public education.
“Water safety is not common sense,” Benjamin said. “People learn how to swim all the time without any information on how to survive a drowning incident.”