Leslie kicks up surf, rip current risk along Florida beaches

Surfers flock to ride waves from hurricane 1,200 miles offshore

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Red flags are flying along Northeast Florida's beaches Friday due torip currents caused by Tropical Storm Leslie, and beachgoers along the Gulf of Mexico could deal with higher surf from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.

While the storm is nearly 1,200 miles east of Jacksonville, the Florida Division of Emergency Management says ocean swells caused by Leslie will affect beaches from Nassau County south to Martin County.

"There's multiple currents working on you, and in the blink of an eye you or someone you're with can be in trouble," said Taylor Anderson, a lifeguard at Jacksonville Beach.

Leslie strengthened Wednesday into the season's sixth hurricane.  Although its winds fell below hurricane strength Friday morning, it is forecast to regain strength -- perhaps even becoming a Category 2 hurricane -- before passing east of Bermuda over the weekend.

Channel 4 meteorologist Richard Nunn said the surf was 2 to 3 feet a midday Friday, and the surfers were flocking to beaches.

"The waves are looking fun, but you've got to be aware of the rip current risk," Nunn said.

The power of the currents took experienced sun worshiper Duncan Harris by surprise.

"I couldn't swim," Harris said after finding himself in a runout. "I was just trying to swim my hardest and it was just tough."

The heavy surf and and potential of rip tides is expected to continue into early next week.

Forecasters say a remnant of Isaac was hovering off the Gulf Coast, including the Florida Panhandle. State officials warn that could generate rough surf and rip currents off northwest Florida beaches.

Deputy state meteorologist Michelle Palmer warned swimmers to check warning flags before getting into the water and to stay within sight of a lifeguard and follow this advice:

  • Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures.
  • Never swim against the rip.
  • Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle -- away from the current, towards shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water.
  • Draw attention to yourself -- face the shore, wave your arms and yell for help.

Copyright 2012 by News4Jax.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.