Be Prepared: How to spot and escape rip currents - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Be Prepared: How to spot and escape rip currents

(Source: Flickr – Achin Hepp) (Source: Flickr – Achin Hepp)
(WAFF) -

Whether you’re heading to the beach to soak up the sun this summer or for some Spring Break fun, learning how to identify a rip current, and what to do if you get caught in one, could save your life.

On average, about 50 people die every year as a result from rip currents. That’s more than the average number of deaths from lightning strikes.

So what exactly is a rip current?

A rip current is a strong jet of water that quickly flows away from shore. Swimmers who are caught in rip currents can get pulled away from safety at speeds of nearly 10 feet per second, far too fast for you to try swimming back to the beach.

Fortunately, meteorologists can predict conditions favorable to the formation of rip currents, and swimmers almost always have ample warning that rip currents are possible or occurring. You just have to heed those warnings.

If you don’t check the forecast on vacation, you can also look for visual cues, like the beach warning flags.

If they are yellow, use extreme caution. If they are red, it is best not to go into the water, even if you think you are a good swimmer, and even if weather conditions appear calm and the waves aren’t that big.

Rip currents often form where sand bars are near the shore. They occur at breaks or channels in the bar.

They’re often difficult to see, but you can spot them in areas where waves aren’t breaking, or where there’s foam, seaweed, or discolored water being pulled offshore. It’s easier to see a rip current from higher up, such as from the beach access over dunes or a lifeguard’s tower.

If you get caught in a rip current, yell and wave for help. Stay relaxed and don’t panic. Try to conserve your energy. If you’re a good swimmer, swim parallel to the beach to escape the rip current. If you aren’t a skilled swimmer, float on your back until the current lets up and stops driving you away from shore. At that point, you’ll need to be able to stay afloat long enough for help to arrive.

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