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National Weather Service issues beach hazard statement wrapping Lake Michigan

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LAKE MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The National Weather Service has issued a beach hazard statement, wrapping around Lake Michigan, ahead of a busy holiday weekend.

Waves and rip currents are making for dangerous conditions.

Gusty winds arrived behind Friday morning's cold front.

Conditions are expected to improve over the next 12 hours, but will remain life-threatening until then.

In St. Joseph, waves cresting three to five feet are crashing against the windward side of the pier.

"Even Michael Phelps would not be able to swim in these kind of conditions," said Bob Pratt, Executive Director for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

On the other side, shielded from the fierce winds, the beach is busier but still dangerous.

High waves and strong rip currents made Tim Michell set ground rules for his family.

"No deeper than ankle deep. If they wanted to lay down, they have to hold on. They're doing pretty well," he said.

Despite the red-flag warnings, some people will still test Mother Nature.

Pratt wants risk-takers to remember three words: Flip, float, and follow.

"Flip over onto your back. Float to calm yourself down. Float to conserve your energy. Float to see whether you're caught in a current. And if you are, then follow a path that is perpendicular to the current," he said.

Pratt says the signs of a drowning are not always obvious. But he also encourages anyone on the sidelines of a potential drowning to have the right equipment before attempting a rescue.

"You want to look for anything that's going to float, like a volleyball or even a football," he said.

High waves and strong rip currents can tire even the strongest of swimmers.

Guarded beaches are the best choices this weekend, until late Saturday, when the big lake becomes flat.

One of those guarded beaches is St. Joseph.

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