Watch out for rip currents along the lakeshore

As the weather warms up, our attention turns to the beaches. This week is Rip Current Awareness Week.

As it turns out, the lakeshore was under rip current advisories Thursday.

Rip currents can be very hard to catch. They can be as narrow as 10 feet and as wide as 100 feet. Length and speed also vary.

The current starts from near the shore and can take you far out into the water.

A refresher on how to spot rip currents and what to do if you get caught in them is important since people are already braving chilly Lake Erie.

Youngster Kellie-Rebeakah Stumps tells Channel 3's Hilary Golston the water is "um, freezing."

Stumps told her mom she wanted to get in the water, despite the cold temps.

"I don't really care how cold the water is. I just care if I have fun," she said.

The chilly water isn't the only thing to look out for. The movement of the water is also a problem.

Hidden, dangerous rip currents can turn deadly.

"The lake is unpredictable. ... Any body of water is unpredictable ... but this body of water is extremely unpredictable," Stumps' mom says.

The U.S. Coast Guard reports rip currents cause people to die on all of the Great Lakes.

"Lake Michigan has the highest number of current-related fatalities and rescues of all the Great Lakes, with 77 fatalities and at least 230 rescues since 2002," the Coast Guard blog indicates.

That lake had "201 more incidents than all of the other lakes combined."

However, Lake Erie's fabled unpredictability, especially when weather conditions make rip currents more likely, means understanding what's going on can be a life saver.

Experts say if you find yourself in trouble, you shouldn't fight the current.

If you have to, swim out of the current parallel to the beach and then to shore.

If you can't escape, try to tread water or float instead.

Try to call or wave for help but stay calm and let the waves do the work to carry you back to the beach.

Jules O'Donnell, who braved the cold Lake Erie waters Thursday, reports she's witnessed the panic getting pulled out away from shore can create.

Her friend nearly lost a battle with a powerful current.

"The current was pulling her and she didn't know what to do," O'Donnell said. "She kept tripping and, when you're in the water … the sand, it sinks down. … The water goes back."

Head to the National Weather Service's website for a course on how to spot and get out of rip currents.

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