WeatherGuide Fayetteville 2011 : Page 19

Rip Currents What is a “rip current”? Be aware of this potential danger in the water. Tips from NOAA on Rip Current Safety n First, learn how to swim! When at the beach: beach. Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water rushing away from shore. When excess water comes on shore, it digs or rips a trench in the sand below as it retreats back toward the horizon. The heavy force of that water pushing backward out to sea, is the rip current. They can begin in the surf zone near the beach and dangerously extend for hundreds of feet away from the shore. Their width can be as narrow as 10 or 20 feet, or up to 10 times wider. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes. Rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. Rip currents are not rip tides . Even though the terms are mistakenly used in-terchangeably, they are caused by different phenomena. The correct term to use is rip currents, according to NOAA and the USLA (The United States Life Saving Association). How does the flow of a rip current move? Rip current speeds can vary. Sometimes they are too slow to be considered dangerous. However, under certain wave, tide and beach conditions, the speeds can quickly become dangerous. 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 estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches exceeds 100. Rip cur-rents account for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards, according to the United States Lifeguarding Association. n Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected n Never swim alone. n Learn how to swim in the surf. It’s not the same as swimming in a pool or lake. at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out. Lifeguards are trained to identify potential hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering the water. This is part of their job. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures. beach. They will help you to spot signatures of rip currents by cutting down glare and reflected sunlight off the ocean’s surface. elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing. n Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming n Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. n Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. n Consider using polarized sunglasses when at the n Pay especially close attention to children and Water Closed to Public High Hazard High Surf and/or Strong Currents Medium Hazard Moderate Surf and/or Currents Low Hazard Calm Conditions, Exercise Caution What to do if you are caught in a rip current: n n n n Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly. Never fight against the current. Swim out of the current in a direction parallel to the shoreline When out of the current, swim at an angle—away from the current—toward shore. Dangerous Marine Life “IF THERE ARE NO LIFEGUARDS, WE DO NOT RECOMMEND SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN.” – The U.S. Lifesaving Association 26 Rip current photo courtesy of Dennis Decker, WCM, NWS Melbourne, FL. Rip current chart courtesy of NOAA. Beach Warning Flags

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