Lake Michigan has garnered a reputation for being one of the most beautiful Great Lakes, and also one of the most visited. With its expansive shores, there's really no bad spot to soak up some rays, do some water sports, or get out on the boat. However, that doesn't mean it's always safe - this lake also boasts the title of the most dangerous lake in the country.
It's estimated that nearly 300,000 people have lost their lives in this lake alone and that nearly 10,000 ships have sunk to its depths. Those numbers are striking, especially when you consider how many people visit this lake annually. So now for the real question: Why, exactly, is this lake so dangerous?
Swift Currents Are The Real Danger
The problems in Lake Michigan are due to a number of factors. Not only is this lake massive - spanning 307 miles in either direction - but its shores also run parallel, causing unique wave shapes. Ths shapes of these waves are what contribute to rip tides, which are one of the most dangerous things swimmers can encounter in the water.
Lake Michigan's riptide and longshore tides are unparalleled when it comes to danger among all the Great Lakes. In fact, it features cause it to have highly unusual amounts of dangerous tides compared to anywhere else in the US.
The reason these waves are so dangerous is that most people either don't know how to spot them and/or don't know how to navigate them, should they get caught. The first thing to avoid is panicking - no good ever came from a panicked swimmer, who's more likely to fight the tide. When caught in a rip current, the best thing to do is simply relax (as hard as it might be) in order to allow the current to float the swimmer to its end. When the current lessens, the swimmer can then break free and swim to the nearest shoreline.
Another way to avoid landing in rip currents is to not jump off the end of docks into deep water. Any structures that reach far into the lake or hang over it could all potentially lead to getting caught in a current.
The Size Of The Lake's Waves During Storms
The lake's natural configuration also makes it the monster it is during storms. North and south-blowing winds do swimmers and boaters no favors, as they're capable of producing massive wave heights. The distance between the two states - Michigan and Wisconsin - allow waves to build for miles before eventually making it to shore, meaning their heights have been building for some time before breaking. The sheer power behind them is enough to throw off the balance of a swimmer or a surfer, especially if they're far from the shoreline.
The location of the lake also means frigid temperatures in the colder months, adding the risk of hypothermia to unprepared swimmers. Fall and winter months can be brutal on this lake and when the wind starts whipping, the windchill can easily dip below freezing. All of these factors play into the lake's body count, as it might not be just one thing that brings down a swimmer.
Combined with the fact that the lake is so popular and can be accessed in so many different areas, this will inevitably lead to trouble somewhere along the shoreline. The best thing to do when visiting Lake Michigan is to be hyper-aware of your surroundings, especially if it looks like the weather will take a turn or if there are riptide warnings.