A Special 4-Part Series on Drownings

Dangerous currents -- just like those on ocean beaches -- cause drownings across the Great Lakes every summer. Nearly 500 people have drowned or been rescued on the lakes since 2002. 

Ways to Connect

Elizabeth MIller

Last part of series

With dangerous currents a fact of life along the Great Lakes, officials are looking for ways to limit the number of drownings. 

On a recent sunny afternoon on Lake Michigan, people are enjoying the cool waters of Warren Dunes State Park … despite a large red flag flying above the crowd. The flag means no swimming due to dangerous currents. The park has no lifeguards, so there’s no one to enforce the ban, and some beachgoers still plan to go into the lake.  

Elizabeth MIller

Part three of a series

Dangerous currents and drownings go hand-in hand across the Great Lakes. But many are concentrated in Southwest Michigan’s Berrien Co.

The county has 50 miles of shoreline and its crown jewel is Silver Beach County Park. It’s straight out of a postcard: sandy beaches, a playground, and a big concession stand selling snow cones and hot dogs.

The area is a popular spot for Midwesterners who don’t want to make the long trip to the ocean, says Brian Bailey, who manages the park.

Michigan Sea Grant

Part two in a series

Powerful currents on the Great Lakes have caused more than 150 drownings since 2002, according to researchers. Those currents can appear suddenly, says Mark Breederland, an educator with Michigan Sea Grant.

Elizabeth MIller

Part one in a series

In her family’s backyard overlooking Lake Erie, Melissa Zirkle watched as her son Jermaine joined some friends in the water. On that July day in 2013, she was building steps in the backyard.

“I kept looking and checking on him, and he was standing in the water and he was laughing, having fun with the other kids,” Zirkle says, recalling the scene along Ohio's shoreline. “Then about two minutes later, I heard cries for help.”