Severe Weather — Fayetteville, NC-Summer 2012
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Rip Currents

Be aware of this potential danger in the water.

WHAT IS A RIP CURRENT?

Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. Rip currents can be as narrow as 10 or 20 feet in width, though some may be up to 10 times wider. They can extend for hundreds of feet beyond the surf zone. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes. Rip currents are not rip tides. Even though the terms are mistakenly used interchangeably, they are caused by different phenomena. The correct term to use is rip currents, according to NOAA and the USLA.

HOW FAST DO RIP CURRENTS MOVE?

Rip currents have been measured to exceed 5 mph, slower than you can run but faster than you or even an Olympic swimmer can swim. In some cases they have been measured as fast as 8 feet per second. This is faster than the speed at which an Olympic swimmer can swim a 50-meter sprint.

Rip currents can be killers. The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches exceeds 100. Rip currents account for over 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards, according to the United States Lifeguarding Association.

RIP CURRENT SAFETY TIPS FROM NOAA

#1 Learn how to swim!

When at the beach:

• Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguardprotected beach.

• Never swim alone.

• Learn how to swim in the surf. It’s not the same as swimming in a pool or lake.

• Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.

• Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out.

• Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.

Lifeguards are trained to identify potential hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering the water. This is part of their job.

• Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures.

• Consider using polarized sunglasses when at the beach. They will help you to spot signatures of rip currents by cutting down glare and reflected sunlight off the ocean’s surface.

• Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE CAUGHT IN A RIP CURRENT

• Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.

• Never fight against the current.

• Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.

• Swim out of the current in a direction following (think parallel) the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle—away from the current—towards shore.
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