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3 Weekend Drownings Prompt Warning About Lake Temperature, Conditions

CHICAGO (CBS) -- At least three people drowned in Lake Michigan this weekend, including a woman pulled from the water near Loyola Beach on Saturday, prompting a warning about the dangers of swimming when the water is still dangerously cold.

While the weather hasn't been really warm until recently, that hasn't stopped people from going into the lake, oftentimes unprepared.

Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, said at least 16 people have drowned in Lake Michigan so far this year, more than all the other Great Lakes combined.

Benjamin said 46 people drowned in Lake Michigan last year, one of the worst years for the lake since the group started tracking drownings in 2010. With swimming season just getting started, this year could match that total.

"Right now, we are on a record pace to match last year," he said.

Benjamin encouraged people to know their limitations when they go swimming, and make sure someone is watching the water at all times while children are playing at beaches with no lifeguards on duty.

He also recommended anyone who isn't a strong swimmer should wear a life vest when swimming.

Of the 562 people who died on the Great Lakes since Benjamin's group started tracking drownings, only five were wearing life vests, and they were in extremely cold water.

"Your chance of drowning in the Great Lakes is less than 1 percent if you're wearing a life vest," he said.

As of Sunday, the water temperature in Lake Michigan was still only about 65 degrees; while not extremely cold, it is still dangerous for swimming for extended periods. For comparison, Olympic swimming pools must be at least 77 degrees.

Benjamin said winds out of the south this weekend also can cause trouble for swimmers.

"It's one of the big hazards – especially at the south end of Lake Michigan, in Chicago over to New Buffalo – is that the winds are blowing offshore. So, inflatable devices, inner tubes, beach balls, paddle boards, they all have the potential to float out into open water," he said.

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