May 26, 2015
Rip Current Preparedness
Week begins June 7
Rip Current Preparedness Week kicks off June 7, just as the busy summer season is getting underway on the North Carolina coast.
Oak Island already has reported the May 12 death of a swimmer likely
caught in a rip current a day earlier, stressing the importance of
avoiding rip currents and knowing how to escape if caught in one.
During the designated week and all season, partners will highlight how
to stay safe while enjoying our beautiful beaches. Collaborators in
North Carolina include local ocean rescue teams, North Carolina Sea
Grant, National Weather Service forecast offices, and beach
“Beaches are pretty safe places for recreation but the primary
exception on most ocean beaches is rip currents,” explains Spencer
Rogers, Sea Grant coastal construction and erosion specialist.
Last summer, Rogers, along with University of North Carolina Wilmington
graduate student Cobi Christiansen and a variety of partners, deployed
data-logging drifters on beaches in New Hanover County and along the
Outer Banks. Their goal was to record the frequency of rip currents
that circulated back to shore.
Their data analysis showed that 10 percent of the drifters were ejected into deeper waters and did not recirculate back to shore
That was a higher rate of ejection than data from colleagues’ previous
research conducted on the West Coast, which showed more rip currents
with circulation cells. In those cells, swimmers caught in rip currents
could keep calm and float — and eventually be brought back toward
shore, by the water flow.
Rogers says the North Carolina data pose a big question: “What
threshold of ejections can you tolerate? If you’re only losing 10
percent of the people, is that an acceptable reason to say float? It’s
not,” Rogers says.
“If there is any real likelihood of an ejection, you pretty much have
to tell people to try and get out of it,” he explains. He cites the
long-told advice to stay calm but also begin to swim parallel to the
shore until out of the rip current, which is normally fairly narrow in
The NWS forecast offices serving the North Carolina provide daily rip
current forecasts, ranging from low to high threats. These data also
are used to further rip current research.
“Taking real-time information and correlating it with our rip
current forecast, we are able to learn more about rip current activity
along our coast, and use that information for future research,” Sandy
LaCorte explains, meteorologist for the NWS Wilmington Office. “We have
several years of beach reports, and look forward to continuing to grow
our database so that we can better understand rip currents and improve
Rogers and partners will continue their research this summer, including
near Rogers’ office in Wilmington, along with drifters stationed at the
Outer Banks and others loaned to colleagues in South Carolina.
Overall N.C. rip current research project partners have been: North
Carolina Sea Grant; UNCW Center for Marine Science; NWS Wilmington
Forecast Office; and Town Lifeguard Programs in Carolina Beach,
Wrightsville Beach and Kure Beach.
partners in the research included UNCW
Surf Club, Wrightsville
Beach Longboard Association,
Silvagni Surf School in Carolina Beach,
Surf Shop in Carolina Beach and
of New South Wales.
learn more about rip currents and to view video of a drifter
deployment, visit ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/ripcurrents.
Beach Safety: Rip Current Tips and Educational Materials
Folks heading to the beach this summer should be aware of the potential for rip currents.
National Weather Service officials report one fatality due to rip
currents along our coast in 2014, and a total of at least 58 deaths
There are a variety of beach safety resources available to the public — including some right on the beach.
“Lifeguards are not only on the beach to respond to emergency
situations, but also to inform the public about current conditions.
Talk to your local lifeguard when enjoying the beach this summer and
always look out for your fellow friends and family while participating
in water activity,” explains Simon Sanders, Ocean Rescue Supervisor for
A rip current is a strong current that moves away from the shore. Rip
currents often can be identified as a flat spot between breaking waves
that can last minutes or months. Here are some safety tips:
- If you are planning to swim in the ocean, look for a location with lifeguards.
you are caught in a rip current, do not panic. If able, alert those on
shore of your problem. Then swim parallel to the shore to get clear of
the rip current.
you are on shore and see someone in distress, alert lifeguards and call
911. If you go in the water, take flotation devices for yourself and
the person or persons caught in the rip.
Carolina partners continue to promote rip current safety by posting
signs, providing magnets and sharing daily rip current outlooks from
National Weather Service Offices in Newport/Morehead City and
Wilmington, N.C., and Wakefield, Va. Online safety materials also are
available via the NWS portal at ripcurrents.noaa.gov/.
signs and brochures with the Break the Grip of the Rip national
safety message are available from North Carolina Sea Grant. For
prices go to ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/
and search for rip currents. For individual orders, call
919-515-9101. Communities, vacation rental firms and others with bulk
orders also can call 910-962-2490. Download the rip current
can check each day's rip current forecast for the Outer Banks by
clicking on the yellow box on The Island Free Press front page -- at
the top on the right.)