1 death in Florida blamed on rough surf; rip-current risk warning issued

Florence stirs up strong waves, rip currents on Northeast Florida beaches

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – While Tropical Storm Florence remains far from Northeast Florida, the effects of the powerful system are already creating powerful waves and increasing the risk of rip currents.

Volusia County beach patrol officials said one man drowned in the rough waters off near New Smyrna Beach and two others were injured when large waves slammed them onto sandbars.

Many times, just from looking at the surf, you may think this weekend is the perfect time to take a swim.

But experts say, there’s a very real danger within those waves. 

Lifeguard-EMT Gordon Vandusen, and others like him, are keeping an especially close eye on the surf this weekend.

A high rip current risk – thanks, in part, to Florence – is catching some, off guard.

"People who come to the beach and aren’t very well-versed in how the ocean acts and just the different dynamics of the ocean," Vandusen said. "They think it’s a big pool – a big lake.”

But lifeguards and meteorologists alike agree that the risk is a serious one.

As it turns out, most rip current deaths occur on sunny or partly-cloudy days, when conditions are pleasant.

Rip currents are also the No. 1 weather-related killer in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, taking more lives than hurricanes and tornadoes, combined.

Experts say, the waves may not be especially large, but they are more powerful, which is what causes the rip currents.

The key, Vandusen said, is to remain calm and go with the current. 

"People usually know their own limits," Vandusen said. "It’s when they encounter things that they’re not used to that they get out of their comfort zone and that’s when they begin to panic.”