It’s a hidden killer in the water: rip currents.
“One of the major focuses has been rip current education since they’re the cause of over 80% of both rescues at surf beaches, but also presumed to be the cause of drowning deaths at surf beaches,” said Chris Brewster, who works with the United States Lifesaving Association.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came together with the USLA and other beach safety partners to talk about what a rip current is and what to look out for.
“This is a rip current we captured using drone footage in Kill Devil Hills, NC on the Outer Banks,” said Greg Dusek with the National Ocean Service as he showed video of a rip current in the Outer Banks. “You can see the rip in the center there, where there’s kind of a flat spot in the line of breaking waves.”
Another way to spot a rip current? Look for foam or sediment in the water being pulled offshore.
Sixty to 70 rip-related drownings happen each year, many of which are by vacationers from far away. There have been at least 36 such drownings in 2021 so far, a record-setting pace.
Erik Haden is the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Newport/Morehead City, NC. He said the coverage area of his office sees many beachgoers from out of state.
“Our challenge is, how do we get the message to those folks before they get to the beach and then once they’re at the beach, they might not be as familiar as a local,” Haden said. “How do they know the risk associated with the flags and things of that nature.”
You’re encouraged to familiarize yourself with rips before you hit the road and there’s plenty of tools to help, like a new rip current model from NOAA.
“Rip current model predicts the likelihood of hazardous rip currents from 0 to 100 percent, kind of like a precipitation forecast,” Dusek said. “It provides that information every mile or so along the beach, every hour, going six days into the future.”
If you find yourself caught in a rip, the first thing to do is relax. Call for help or swim parallel to the shoreline until released from the danger.
If a loved one is in distress from a rip current, you’re suggested to get help from a lifeguard or call 911.