Breaking the "Rip Grip"
Posted June 7, 2011
As we continue to head into the summer beach and swimming season, NOAA and the NWS remind us that rip currents can be a serious threat to those swimming in the ocean. According to research by the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the Wilmington NWS office, since 2000 there have been 72 drowning deaths along the combined North and South Carolina coasts attributed to rip currents, a figure that exceeds in that time deaths in the two states caused by lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding.
In an attempt to prevent as many rip-related injuries and deaths as possible, the Weather Service has designated June 5-11 as Rip Current Awareness Week, with their theme being "Break the Grip of the Rip." The best way to do that is through education about the phenomenon, which most frequently involves water that either piles up near shore and then flows rapidly away from shore through breaks in sandbars, or water that is flowing along the shore being deflected offshore in narrow channels by man-made or natural obstructions.
They've put together a very nice awareness page with lots of info on rip currents, the science behind them, links to regular forecasts of likely rip current risk levels for most coastal areas around the U.S., and a collection of first-person accounts of rip current incidents, some written by people who were caught in rip currents and barely escaped, some others unfortunately supplied by surviving friends or relatives of drowning victims. Most of them contain instructive observations and some good lessons to have in the back of your mind when swimming along the coast.
I've included a link to the overall awareness page - once you're there, I'd also encourage clicking on the "Science" link along the left side of the page for good background on the many ways rip currents can form and behave, and on the "Local Weather and Surf Forecasts" link next to the bottom photo in middle of the page. That link will produce a page with links to local beach forecast info from around the country, including the offices that cover the Carolina Coasts (Wilmington, Morehead City/Newport, and Wakefield, VA). Those forecasts also include good info on waves, the threat of lightning and surf water temperatures for those planning a beach outing.