Forecasters, Coast Guard warn of rip currents on Outer Banks

Posted September 5, 2012 7:16 a.m. EDT
Updated September 5, 2012 5:06 p.m. EDT

— The Coast Guard and the National Weather Service are warning people about the high risk for dangerous rip currents sparked by Tropical Storm Leslie on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The weather service office in Morehead City says rip currents sparked by Leslie are possible Wednesday in Dare, Hyde, Onslow and Carteret counties.

Rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore. They occur most often at low spots or breaks in sandbars.

"Oftentimes, the biggest rip current outbreaks occur from swells from a distant storm," said Steven Pfaff of the National Weather Service office in Wilmington. "The swells affect large areas of coastline, putting a higher number of people at risk."

The Coast Guard also is advising boaters and swimmers to use extreme caution at inlets, where dangerous conditions can occur as large waves sweep in. Last month, the Coast Guard rescued four people when their 24-foot power boat capsized in breaking surf at Hatteras Inlet.

"The ocean is unforgiving," said Capt. Anthony Popiel, the Coast Guard Sector North Carolina commander. "It is extremely important for people for people to carefully watch weather conditions and know their capabilities prior to getting under way or going in the water."

According to the guard, 82 people have died in rip currents in the Carolinas since 2000.

Anyone caught in a rip current should swim parallel to the shore until they are able to escape and swim in to the beach.

The tropical storm itself is heading toward Bermuda.