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Planning a beach trip? What to know about dangerous rip currents

Rip currents account for more than 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.
(WJHG)
Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 8:02 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -

Summer is here as as you plan your trip to the beach, it’s important to check the rip current forecast and pay attention to the flags on the beach. Rip currents are a factor every year and can be deadly if you get caught up in one.

The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) “estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches exceeds 100.”

Even if you hit the beach every year, anyone can get caught in a rip current. No matter your swimming experience, or fitness level, rip currents are dangerous to everyone. The best thing to do is avoid getting in the water when the rip current danger is high.

Rip Current Forecast

If you’re heading to a Mid-Atlantic beach, here is the link to check the daily rip current risk:

(Be sure to check with the local National Weather Service office to where the beach is located and check with local officials)

Here is some general info on rip currents and what to do to stay safe in the ocean this summer:

Rip currents flow away from the shoreline meaning they can pull anyone away from shore into deep water and be deadly. Rip currents generally extend from the shoreline all the way past breaking waves. They are located only in areas with breaking waves.

Rip Current dangers
Rip Current dangers(NWS/NOAA)

Rip currents directly correlate with waves. Why? Waves break at different strengths in different locations of a beach. This can create a narrow circulation in the water that retreats from the shoreline.

Even the strongest swimmers can be swept away by a rip current. Non-swimmers or weak swimmers certainly are more prone to rip currents but some rip currents can travel faster than Olympic swimmers.

You can identify a rip current with things such as the water being a different shade or noticing foam, seaweed, or debris promptly moving away from the shore. The problem is this is extremely hard to identify which makes rip currents so deadly.

In order to avoid rip currents, one precaution is to avoid going into the water during a high risk day. The National Weather Service puts out statements for days of high rip current risks.

Another tip is to go to a beach with a lifeguard present. If something happens, someone will at least be watching you to make sure you stay safe. Having someone with you in the ocean will also help you stay safe.

What if you're caught in a rip current?

If you think you are in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore and do your best not to panic. As much as it’s tempting to get close to the shore, swimming parallel to the shore can get you out of something narrow that is pulling you out to sea.

Beach hazard flags
Beach hazard flags(WHSV)

Don’t fight the rip current by trying to oppose it. Swimming parallel to the shoreline does not oppose a rip current and will likely get you out of a bad situation.

Rip Current Deaths: Last 5 years
YEARNUMBER OF DEATHS PER YEAR (INFO FROM NWS)
202023 as of June 8
2019101
2018104
2017111
2016108

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