NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently launched a new forecast model to predict the rip current risk along the coast days ahead of time.
“Rip currents can travel of speeds up to 5 mph, which I know to most people probably sounds slow but if you consider that the top Olympic swimmers average about 5 mph, so even if you’re a really good swimmer, that’s going to cause problems,” explained Greg Dusek, NOAA senior scientist. “What happens typically is people get surprised, they get caught off guard, they get pulled away from shore pretty quickly and then they start panicking and that’s when we really start running into problems with potential drownings.”
According to NOAA, rip currents claim the lives of roughly 100 people a year. In Northeast Florida, two swimmers recently died in rough waters, including a man who authorities said got caught in a rip current in Fernandina Beach last month.
To save lives, NOAA worked with the National Weather Service on a new forecast model to help inform beachgoers about possible dangers in the water. It predicts the likelihood of rip currents every hour, up to six days in advance.
“One of the things that NOAA’s been working on the past several years is this idea of ‘know before you go,’” explained Dusek. “So, getting people information about the potential hazard before they get to the beach, so before you’re exposed to the hazard before you could potentially get into a rip and you have to try to rescue yourself or get out of the situation.”
Dusek said this information will benefit beachgoers and emergency personnel.
“We know people don’t just show up at the beach often, people make plans for the weekend or for the week to come and we want to make sure we’re getting people information well in advance of their beach trip,” said Dusek. “In addition, public safety personnel, lifeguards, emergency managers make staffing decisions for the coming week, and getting the information can help them hopefully better plan for where they might need to have an increased guard presence.”