High winds, storms, wave action increase hazards

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District
Published Nov. 21, 2023
A wave slams against the 1901-built South Pier Outer Breakwater Lighthouse in Duluth, Minnesota during a Lake Superior storm on April 20, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Scott Bjorklund)

A wave slams against the 1901-built South Pier Outer Breakwater Lighthouse in Duluth, Minnesota during a Lake Superior storm on April 20, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Scott Bjorklund)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, urges caution around Great Lakes harbor piers and breakwaters, particularly during high wind and wave events. 

Accidents can occur near harbor structures during turbulent weather late in the year. The lakeshore attracts residents and visitors who may not be aware of the powerful impacts strong winds and storms can bring to shorelines and harbor structures.  

“Although breakwater structures are built for navigation, they are often used for recreation,” said Chief of Operations and Maintenance Branch, Cindy Jarema. “Walking along breakwater structures can be hazardous – surfaces may be slippery and uneven, and wave action increases the risk of injury or falling into the water.” 

Submerged Structures. Structures that may be visible on a calm day may not be visible on a windy day. Many piers, docks and portions of breakwaters may not be visible above the water surface due to high water and waves. Winds can rapidly affect Great Lakes water levels during storms.  

Cold Water Dangers. Cold water is a significant safety threat should a person slip or fall off a breakwater or pier into the water. Cold water immersion (60°F and colder) can induce cold water shock in less than 60 seconds. Cold water shock causes gasping and difficulty breathing, followed by muscle failure, which can lead to drowning.

Water Currents. When water levels, wind and waves increase, so does the risk of dangerous currents. Rip currents are a common cause of drowning. Rip currents are fast-moving, narrow currents of water that flow away from shore. Structural currents can occur at fixed structures such as breakwaters and piers, and flow away from shore parallel to the structure.

To get out of a rip current, “Flip, Float, Follow” (Great Lakes Surf and Rescue Project: https://glsrp.org/flip-float-follow/) until the current subsides to save your energy and reduce your risk of drowning.  

Stay Safe. For more information on water and pier safety, the Great Lakes Beach & Pier Safety Task Force website is a great resource at www.respectthepower.org. Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project http://www.glsrp.org/ is another resource for water safety. 

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Contact
Emily Schaefer
313-226-4681
Emily.R.Schaefer@usace.army.mil

Release no. 23-025