Dangerous rip currents along our coastline

High risk for deadly rip currents today and tomorrow

By Rebecca Barry - Meteorologist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - There is high risk for rip currents along our shoreline today, the National Weather Service recommends not getting into the water due to dangerous rip currents and high surf. The NWS issued a Rip Current Statement in effect through late Wednesday warning beachgoers of the potentially dangerous conditions. 

Rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore, which  occur most often at low spots or breaks in the sandbar and in the vicinity of structures such as groins, jetties, and piers. 

Coastal winds built dramatically out of the northeast overnight. The onshore flow of wind is making for large and rough surf, increasing our risk for rip currents. The risk for rip currents today and on Wednesday will be high. 

Rip currents are defined as relatively small-scale surf-zone currents (usually 50 to 100 feet wide), moving away from the beach. They can be thought of as small rivers in the ocean, moving away from shore. Rip currents can form along any beach or coastline where breaking waves occur, but are most common near low spots or breaks in sandbars, and near structures such as groins, jetties and piers -- especially a few hours before and after low tide.

They form as a result of breaking waves trapping water between the beach and a sandbar or other underwater features. In order to return to sea, the trapped water converges into a narrow channel moving away from the shore at a high speed.

One way to stay safe from the threat of rip currents is to try to identify them before entering the water. While rip currents can sometimes be difficult for the average beach goer to identify, here are some clues you can look for:

  • A channel of churning, choppy water
  • An area with a notable difference in water color
  • A line of foam, seaweed, or other debris moving steadily out to sea
  • A break or discontinuity in the incoming wave pattern

When looking for rip currents, keep in mind that not all of these signs will occur with all rip currents. In fact, it’s possible that a rip current will exhibit none of these characteristics.

If you choose to go in the water with the risk of rip currents, you should swim near a lifeguard, pay attention to flags and posted signs. If you are caught in a rip current most importantly you should remain calm. Do not fight the current, instead swim parallel to the shore.

The rip current itself does not pull you down- it pulls you out, people drown in rip currents because they try to swim against it and become exhausted.  If you swim in a direction following the shoreline you will eventually swim past the pull of the rip current and be able to swim back to shore. If you cannot escape, just float and tread water until the rip current weakens. If you need help wave your arms to try to attract attention from the shoreline. On top of all of that, one way to get out of the rip current is to lay on your back and try to float out of it. Another approach to get out of the rip current is to lay on your back and you will eventually float out of it.

​According to the National Weather Service office in Jacksonville, every year, dozens of surf zone fatalities occur at beaches across the United States.Over two-thirds of these fatalities are drownings due to rip currents.

These drownings occur when swimmers are pulled away from the shoreline and are unable to swim to shore or keep themselves afloat because of poor swimming skills, fear, panic and/or exhaustion. Rip currents can be particularly dangerous because many swimmers either aren’t familiar with or don’t fully understand them.

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