Stop-and-go lights near beach to warn of rip currents


STOP-AND-GO lights were recently installed at the entrance to Port Washington’s north beach as part of a real-time rip current warning system. Although the lights aren’t operational yet, Recreation Director Kiley Schulte said they will be by the time swimming season begins. A red light indicates that there are rip currents in the area and swimming is dangerous, a yellow light indicates moderate risk and the green light means there is little risk. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

There’s a new stop-and-go light in Port Washington, but this one isn’t on the city’s streets — it’s at the entrance to north beach.

The light isn’t working yet, but by spring it should be up and running as the newest iteration of the integrated nowcast/forecast operation system — aka INFOS — that lets people know if there are dangerous rip currents in the area.

If it’s not safe, the red light will be lit. If there’s a moderate risk of rip currents, the yellow light will shine. If it’s safe, the green light will be lit, explained Recreation Director Kiley Schulte.

The kiosk will also have a screen showing the current risk of rip currents to provide information to beach-goers, she said, and a camera to deter vandals. 

“There are still a few hiccups to work through,” Schulte said. “When swimming season comes around, we’ll be ready to go.

“I think this is a great thing to have to ensure the safety of our waterfront.”

Eventually, the system will be installed to south beach, Schulte said, noting she wants to get it up and running on the north beach before expanding it.

There is also an INFOS phone app that can be downloaded that will give beach-goers that information as well as data on wave height, water temperature and wind speed, but the new system will give people on the beach real-time information, she said. 

The INFOS system, which uses sensors and information from a variety of sources to detect and identify rip currents, was developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Chin Wu and has been in place in Port Washington since 2015. 

There are also INFOS systems in Duluth and Milwaukee.

Through the years, it has expanded from a simple web page into the system being created on the north beach. 

The system was brought to Port by the city’s Waterfront Safety Committee, a subcommittee of the Parks and Recreation Board that was formed after 15-year-old Tyler Buczek drowned off north beach when he was caught in a rip current in 2012.

Schulte said that since former Mayor Tom Mlada left office, the committee has been largely defunct.

“I’m trying to find someone willing to step up and lead it. I would love to see the Waterfront Safety Committee up and working again,” she said. 

To access Port Washington’s INFOS website, visit infosportwashington.cee.wisc.edu.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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