At least seven deaths in North Carolina were related to rip currents in 2013. Thus, the 2014 summer beach season opened with local, state and national attention on surf zone safety
Rip Current Awareness Week included a proclamation from Gov. Pat McCrory to honor North Carolina partners in beach safety, including lifeguards, North Carolina Sea Grant, National Weather Service forecast offices and beach communities.
The first week in June — nationally designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the U.S. Lifesaving Association, or USLA — is selected to promote educational programs about rip currents. This year, the NOAA focus included a North Carolina twist, as Spencer Rogers of North Carolina Sea Grant was profiled on the National Sea Grant website at http://1.usa.gov/1hW2ypw.
“If people know what to do if they are caught in a rip current, they are more likely to protect themselves and continue to have a good day at the beach,” explains Rogers, coastal construction and erosion specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant.
This summer, Rogers will expand his research on rip currents using small drifters to collect data. He will work with Rob Brander, who is known as Dr. Rip in Australia, along with a graduate student at University of North Carolina Wilmington.
A rip current is a strong current that moves away from the shore. Rip currents can often 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.
- If 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.
- If 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.
Steven Pfaff of the NWS Wilmington office keeps track of rip current fatalities. Since 2000, NWS has identified a total of at least 56 rip current deaths in the state. USLA notes that overall, about 80 percent of all ocean rescues are related to rip currents.
The Newport/Morehead City NWS office will continue to be among selected sites for testing of a Beach Hazards Statement that is highlighted online much like a storm or flood warning. The Beach Hazards Statement serves to alert beachgoers of the various hazards in the surf zone, such as rip currents, dangerous shore breaks and longshore currents, explains Tom Lonka of the NWS office in Newport/Morehead City.
North Carolina partners continue to promote rip current safety by posting signs and magnets, sharing daily rip current outlooks from NWS offices in Newport/ Morehead City and Wilmington, N.C., and Wakefield, Va., and online safety materials at ripcurrents.noaa.gov.
This year, new partnerships will bring safety messages to audiences at movie theaters in Dare County. Also, the Hyde County government and the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau are assisting the National Park Service to fund lifeguards at three locations on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore this summer.
Magnets and signs with the Break the Grip of the Rip national safety message are available from North Carolina Sea Grant. Last year, more than 14,500 items were distributed. For prices, go to www.ncseagrant.org, and search for rip currents. For individual orders, call 919-515-9101. For bulk orders, call 910-962-2490.
Print out and share this poster with friends when you go to the coast this summer. Break the grip of the rip!
This article was published in the Summer 2014 issue of Coastwatch.
For contact information and reprint requests, visit ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/coastwatch/contact/.