Officials issue warning about massive uptick in Great Lakes drownings this year

Drowning deaths on Lake Michigan up 80% this year

There are dangers in the Great Lakes that have led to many drownings this year.

DETROIT – Record lake levels, severe storms and high winds have created a recipe for disaster on Michigan's Great Lakes. It's led to a massive uptick in drownings.

According to experts, drowning deaths on Lake Michigan have increased by 80% this year. The concern is the same for the Saint Clair River, Lake Saint Clair and the Detroit River.

Officials with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project said 27 people have drowned so far this year in Lake Michigan, compared to 15 people at the same time last year.

The most recent drowning happened last week, when the body of a 38-year-old father from Brighton was found.

During the height of summer, the water that surrounds Michigan looks inviting, but residents don't appear to be taking high water levels seriously enough.

"Enjoy the park," Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said. "Enjoy the beach. Enjoy what Michigan has to offer, but you have to listen to the warnings."

The danger is compounded when erratic weather changes swimming conditions very quickly. Officials suspect that's what contributed to the most recent drowning at the mouth of the Big Sable River, which flows into Lake Michigan.

"We had problems yesterday during the rescue efforts with people wanting to argue with our deputies about wanting to go in the water, and folks need to heed the warnings," Cole said.

Another cause of drownings are currents that pull swimmers from shore. Jamie Racklyeft was able to survive this type of scare and has since made it a priority to educe people on the danger.

"About half are drowning because of rip currents or other dangerous currents," Racklyeft said. "I learned that there's structural currents near piers and there's long shore currents. There's outlet currents, channel currents, but more than half of the fatalities from drowning in the Great Lakes are from rip currents, classic rip currents."

Local 4's Dr. Frank McGeorge spoke to a member of from the Coast Guard sector covering Detroit and learned there have been 11 drownings between the top of the Saint Clair River and the end of the Detroit River this year.

The issue is that with higher-than-normal water levels, the current under the surface is two to three times faster than usual. When someone jumps off a boat into the river and plummets several feet beneath the surface, they can quickly be swept into the current, become disoriented and struggle to get back up.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.