MTU, weather service research may be usable

Research being conducted by the National Weather Service and Michigan Tech University to better predict when Great Lakes beaches will generate offshore currents that have claimed dozens of lives in recent years seems well directed.

The program was featured in a front page story Monday by The Associated Press and Journal staff members.

According to MTU and the weather service, rip currents are most common when winds are blowing toward shore, causing water to pile up. That’s because the outflowing water can puncture sandbars, pulling swimmers into deeper waters.

Researchers are using a variety of tools to see how near-shore currents form and behave in an effort to make the dangerous areas safer for the public. The goal is to create an early-warning system that identifies the factors that lead to dangerous currents and gives swimmers the kind of information that might save lives.

Similar research has been ongoing for the past three years here in Marquette, after two people drowned in separate incidents near Picnic Rocks in 2010. A total of 14 people have drowned near the rocks since 1961. The weather service has recorded data from a current meter installed in the channel between Picnic Rocks and the shoreline. Researchers are attempting to find a correlation between high currents and larger weather patterns, in an attempt to create a warning system. A channel current, which is created when water is forced between the shore and another landform, exists at Picnic Rocks and according to officials, is one of the likely causes of drowning incidents near the rocks.

To date, it has been determined that Lake Michigan by far has the largest number of drownings and current-related incidents, human-made structures such as piers and break-walls generate the currents that cause the most incidents and 72 percent of incidents occur when winds are blowing toward shore.

Unlike a great deal of the research that centers of higher learning seem to generate, this effort has the potential to produce real, usable data and material that could, potentially, save lives. We applaud the project and eagerly await its results.