Great Lakes Region

Beach goers to Duluth, Minnesota’s seven-mile stretch of Park Point Beach on Lake Superior now have numerous ways to be reminded of the dangers of rip currents, and how to safely escape these currents – thanks to the efforts of the Twin Ports Rip Current Working Group.

The Twin Ports Rip Current Working Group was formed in 2004 after the tragic drowning death of a young man due to a rip current, and the rescue of several other beach goers at Park Point.  Since that time, the working group, which is comprised of the Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grants, the Red Cross, Duluth Parks and Recreation, the Duluth Fire Department and YMCA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Duluth National Weather Service, has increased public rip current awareness and provided a means of widely distributing the message of rip current safety.

Rip currents are strong, narrow channels of water that flow out, away from shore. They tend to occur near sandy beaches, where trenches and breaks in the sandbar form off the shoreline on the lake bottom.  These powerful, channeled currents often develop because of high wind, waves, shoreline structures (such as piers), and weather phenomena.  Rip currents can pull even the strongest swimmers far from the shore, at an average speed of approximately 2 feet per second.

To help educate the public, the Twin Ports Rip Current Working Group has sponsored two day-long rip current workshops, and has installed colored warning flags and an electronic sign near the beach to let beach goers know of the rip current hazard status.  The group has also co-sponsored annual beach safety days, created a Park Point Beach website, and most recently, installed life-saving stations on the beach.  In addition, a grassroots life-saving team has officially been formed, which is comprised primarily of local surfing enthusiasts.  Moreover, each year the Rip Current Working Group reaches over 1,000 local sixth graders participating in Minnesota Sea Grant’s annual RiverQuest educational excursion, increasing their knowledge of rip currents. The group has also been working with Dr. Chin Wu of the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s College of Engineering to learn more about rip currents by installing monitoring equipment at the beach and in the water.  This equipment gathers important scientific data that helps to better understand the currents and more effectively warn of their dangers.

For more information about rip currents and how to avoid them, or for instructions on how to help someone caught in a rip current, please read this article from Minnesota Sea Grant.

Chad Rindahl of the Duluth Fire Department raises a yellow flag to warn beachgoers of the presence of moderate rip currents. A green flag would indicate low rip current risk, while a red flag means high risk. Photo credit: Duluth Fire Department.

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