ORLANDO, Fla. – It looks like a perfect beach day. The weather is warm, the sunshine is glistening off the Atlantic waters, the east breeze is keeping you cool. But it is what you cannot see at the beach that could put your life in danger.
Rip currents are shallow, localized currents that quickly flow away from the shoreline toward the ocean. They claim about 100 lives annually across the U.S.
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Already in 2022, Florida leads the nation in rip current fatalities with a total of three. One of those deaths was a 13-year-old boy from Port Orange, occurring when he ventured out into the waters near Sunglow Fishing Pier in Volusia County last month.
How weather affects rip currents:
Rip currents occur all year round in Florida, but they become more noticeable in the summer when more people venture out into the warmer water.
Rip currents on the east coast of Florida form when there is a strong east breeze. Large swells push water toward the coast, building up pressure. That release comes in the form of rip currents, narrow pathways for water to move back out to sea.
Beachgoers assume if the water is calm, the threat of rip currents is less. That is not true. Even when there is little wave activity, rip currents can form in different sizes and speeds.
What to do if you get caught in a rip current:
If you do find yourself caught in a rip current, the first step is to not panic and try to swim against the current. Turn on your back and float for a few seconds and try and alert people on the beach.
Next, start swimming parallel to the coastline until you begin to feel the pull relax.
From there, start swimming back to shore at an angle. Many panicked swimmers try swimming straight back to shore. That causes them to swim against the current, which increases their risk of drowning due to fatigue.
How can you spot rip currents:
Finding rip currents from the shore is not an easy task. Best way to spot them is from high above, such as with a tall lifeguard station or a drone.
The best way to stay informed is by looking out for the posted beach warning flags at beach entrances or near life guard towers.