Activity: Who is Drowning in the Great Lakes?

Picnic Rocks, Shiras Park, Marquette, MISummary: Using Great Lakes incident statistics from the National Weather Service, students explore real data on who is at risk when swimming in the Great Lakes.

You need:

Scientists have discovered that the physical attributes of the Great Lakes combined with strong and rapidly changing wind, results in extreme weather conditions that can be deadly. Many people have died as a result of short wave periods that result in rapidly crashing waves and dangerous currents.

The National Weather Service began documenting incidents (rescues and fatalities) related to dangerous currents in 2002. The data collected is available to the public. Scientists, students and others use the data to compare differences or note similarities. In this activity, we explore what you can determine from the data.

 

Procedure

  • Break into groups of 3-5
  • Use the data to answer questions like the following:
    • Who is drowning in the Great Lakes? Consider age, gender, how far they live from the beach, type of current, etc.
    • What are some of the weather contributions? For example, what is a common wave height during incidents? What is a common wind direction? How about water temperature?
    • Can you spot any other trends in drownings and rescues?

Part 1 – By Lake: Creating a Profile

  • Work with data from one Great Lake (Michigan and Superior have the most incidents).
    • What year was the worst for drownings and rescues?
    • What are the totals? (total number of incidents, rescues, drownings, etc.)
    • Are there certain beaches that stand out?
    • What types of currents appear to be most dangerous?
    • Extra Credit: What was going on in those years? Look for media stories about what was happening with weather, lake levels and other potential influences during the banner years.
  • If you were to compile a profile for a person most likely to get into trouble while swimming in the Great Lakes, who would that person be?

Discuss the Results:

  • What did you learn about incidents – gender of people, age of people, and location of home? Talk about common characteristics you spotted.
  • Did you notice any other trends?
  • What other kind of information could you get from this data?

 

Part 2 – By Year: Charting the Trends

  • Choose one year of data to examine (2010 and 2011 include many incidents). Groups can all choose different years or there can be some overlap, as the data they chart can be different.
    • Which of the Lakes appear to be most dangerous? Less dangerous?
  • Think about how to present this data graphically.
  • Have each person in the group choose one aspect from the data (i.e., wind speed, etc) and create a chart for that year (either electronically or by hand). Make sure each person in the group chooses a different aspect, so there is no overlap within the group.
    • Choose from the following to create a chart:
      • Wave Height
      • Wave Period
      • Water Temperature
      • Air Temperature
      • Wind Speed
      • Wind Direction
      • Beach Name
      • Gender
      • Age
      • Date
      • Rescues vs. Drownings
      • Type of Current
  • Individuals should talk about what they found and compare their charts with the rest of the group.
    • What are the most prominent influences in dangerous current rescues and drownings?
    • Write down a profile based on the results of charts. Think about who is most likely to get caught in a current. When? Where? What type of current?
  • Have each group present their findings to the class.
  • Is it always the same? Does it differ overall or just in one aspect?

Discuss the Results:

  • What did you learn about incidents – gender of people, age of people, and location of home? Talk about common characteristics you spotted.
  • Did you notice any other trends?
  • What other kind of information could you get from this data?

 

Activity Extension: Consider asking students to present a poster session, written document or PPT slide show about dangerous currents at a public event. Invite community leaders and first responders to attend.