The National Weather Service in Mobile reports that rip currents accounted for the most weather-related deaths for coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle since 2002! That's more than hurricanes and tornadoes combined. So we want to make sure you and your family know how to identify a rip current and what to do if you do find yourself caught in one.
It's easy to spot a rip current! They typically appear as darker, narrow gaps of water heading offshore between areas of breaking waves and whitewater. They can appear as darker paths heading out through the surf- so look for gaps in the lines of breaking waves and avoid those areas.
There have been over 191 deaths due to rip currents since 2002 from Mobile to Tallahasee, Florida.
Rip currents can form along shorelines, but the weather service said they also commonly form around breaks in sandbars and near inlets, jetties and piers -- where they can be even stronger.
Rip currents don’t pull you under the water, but they will pull you away from the beach. They can be more powerful than even the strongest swimmer - moving as fast as 8 feet per second, which is a faster pace than an Olympic swimmer!!
The most important thing to do if you’re caught in a rip current is to -- STAY CALM.
The natural impulse is to fight the current and try to swim back to the shore - but that's the worst thing you can do! You can't outswim a rip current - it will only tire you out.
THE KEY IS TO SWIM PARALLEL TO THE BEACH until you feel the current ease.
Try to get the attention of a lifeguard and stay afloat. Most rip currents don't carry you too far - usually just pass the breaking waves. Just try to remember to swim parallel to the beach to escape the current, as it's usually very narrow and swimming parallel to the beach is the best way out.
HOW TO SAVE SOMEONE CAUGHT IN A RIP CURRENT
If a lifeguard is not present, call 9-1-1 THEN try to direct the victim to swim following the shoreline to escape. If possible, throw the rip current victim something that floats. Never enter the water without a flotation device. Rip currents do not pull people under the water—they pull people away from shore. So although it's your first instinct, diving in after someone isn't a good choice. Get professionals on the scene and if you do have to go in, don't go without a floatation device.
If you can float, you might even just relax and "go with the flow." Rip currents do not usually go out very far. Let the rip current carry you until it slows down a short distance offshore. Remember, it doesn't pull you under - it pulls you out past the breakers.
Please review this information with your children and family members so they all know how to spot a rip current and what to do if caught in one.